Oct 13, 2022
Workplace grief


David Knapp

“Take as long as you need,” the memo read. The boss’s signature followed.

When I met with the administration board of the school I was teaching at and explained to them the Ruth’s death was imminent their hearts were breaking as was mine. After a long silence one said, “Take as long as you need Dave, we will cover your classes.” I had no clue what that might mean.  All I knew was that I was hurting and needed to go and have a good cry.

So, I was relieved of both my administrative duties as well as the heavy teaching load I maintained. For three weeks following Ruth’s funeral I simply took care of personal matters, communications and my four children. However, by the beginning of the fourth week I was feeling nearly useless, so I approached the board about picking up the class load again. Reluctantly they agreed but said the administration duties would continue to be handled by someone else.

I had no idea how much I needed to learn about grieving till I was in the middle of it. Even though I “needed something to do” my grief influenced more of my life than I thought. I soon saw that my creativity was severely hampered. Plus, at times my ability to make complicated decisions was often stalled out. Fortunately for everyone, including me and the students in my classes, I was teaching courses that I had taught before and didn’t need to creatively come up with new material. Had I insisted on taking the reins back with my administrative duties some very poor decisions may have developed from my limited abilities at the time.

An article on grief and business posted on website concluded: “Researchers completed an intriguing study that illustrates just how profound and widespread the effect of negative personal events can be and how your brain reacts to grief. Three finance professors from major business schools tracked the performance of 75,000 Danish companies in the two years before and after the CEO had experienced a family death. Financial performance declined 20% after the loss of a child, 15% after the death of a spouse, and almost 10% after the demise of any other family member.”

Each work situation is different, and none is ever perfect when a severe loss occurs. If you are the boss, you often have no choice on “taking as long as you need” after a loss. Some have even been known to “schedule” a time to grieve at a later time. Totally ignoring or “stuffing” one’s need to acknowledge grief long term is seldom a good idea.

The sad truth is that many HR directors and bosses tend to downplay the need for grief and overlook the financial challenge that can bring to the business they are responsible for. Education and awareness on the topic of grief can go a long way in helping both the workers and the business bottom line. Something as simple as having a list of grief counselors or even web links for those grieving can be a step in the right direction.

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