Understanding the Impact Grief Has on Your Employees

John Krautzel
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Dealing with emotions at the office runs the gamut from happiness and contentment to hatred and viciousness. Somewhere in there, as a business leader, you may have to cope with someone's feelings of grief. Understanding the impact that grief has on a worker goes a long way. It helps you empathize with their emotions and makes you more likely to offer assistance.

How Feelings of Grief Affect the Body and Brain

Everyone processes and copes with feelings of grief using their own unique methods, but grief tends to affect the body and brain in specific ways. Grief is more than just profound sadness and anger. These intense feelings can leave co-workers more vulnerable to sicknesses and disease, according to a medical study published in 2014. Illnesses and weakness may come from the body's response to cortisol, the stress hormone that triggers someone's protective response to a certain situation. A continuous supply of cortisol may make someone sick or ill within a few months of the event that caused the grief.

Feelings of grief can lead to changes in the brain over time, especially how the brain manages mood, memory, perception and the body's biological processes. Grieving, sadness and negative thoughts can also alter a person's digestion, thinking and creativity. In a worst-case scenario, grief can lead to mental illness.

Helping Workers Cope

It's important to have programs in place that help employees cope with grief. Keep in mind that there's no "one size fits all" solution. If you have 12 people on your team, each person might cope with an aberrant situation in a different way. The first crucial step is to maintain an open and welcome environment that allows employees to express their feelings in positive ways. This shows that you empathize with the person grieving and sends the message that grieving is a normal process.

Offering benefits can go a long way when it comes to assisting someone who is coping with grief. Often, companies offer mental health benefits, such as a certain number of free counseling sessions per year or bereavement leave. Make sure everyone knows they have these benefits at their disposal. Also, managers can consider moving someone to a flexible schedule or a telecommuting position if the person needs to spend more time at home or be close to family.

Encourage your employee to attend social events at the office, or try to get the person involved in volunteer activities. Both of these can help get the person active and might take their mind off the problem for a little while.

Show respect to the person's grieving process. Although it's difficult to put a time frame on grief, understand that the person is going through a difficult time while trying to keep up with work responsibilities. Grieving may happen for months following the traumatic event, but the person still has job duties to perform. It's important for everyone at the office to be empathetic and take the person's feelings of grief into consideration.

Understanding the impact that feelings of grief has on a person helps you to give your workers the tools they need to cope. Empathy and understanding go a long way when it comes to assisting someone who is coping with grief.

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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