We will all be affected by grief at some point in our lives, regardless of our demographics. The impact of grief is a story that every one can relate to in some form or another.
How grief influences our ability to maintain employment is the core of my story. I wanted to focus on people who have either experienced returning to work after grief or who are recognizing the companies that provide support to bereaved employees.
My mother Phoenix Horizon lost her 18 year old daughter Chanelle unexpectedly in 2008. This has significantly affected Horizon’s physical and mental health, as well as her ability to sustain employment. I wanted to emphasis Horizon’s experiences by using two other bereaved mother’s accounts also.
Horizon has found support from bereavement groups such as ‘The Compassionate Friends’, which have branches all over the world. According to ‘The Compassionate Friends’ Victoria CEO Anne Wicking, grief accounts for 34 billion dollars worth of lost profit in the USA alone. This is due to lower productivity and the cost of having to retrain new staff when a bereaved person leaves.
According to the Summary Report Beyond the Death of a Child (2007)bereaved parents employment leave ranged from “a low of two weeks to a high of two years and eight months, with an average period of leave without pay of 15.5 weeks.” (Stebbins and Batrouney, p.8)
In the same report, the loss of a child caused further financial strain due to bereaved parents untimely resignation or retirement, being demoted, leaving without payment, absences in the workplace, abandoning or selling a business, losing employment entitlements, inability to undertake certain shifts or work on particular days (Stebbins and Batrouney, p.8)
The positive aspect of this story is ‘The Compassionate Friends’ have set in place the Compassionate Employer Recognition Awards, where business who have shown fair treatment towards grieving employees can be nominated. (http://www.compassionatefriendsvictoria.org.au/employer_awards.htm) This not only honors companies who deliver supportive practice to bereaved workers, but according to Wicking, it also provides a template for other businesses to follow.
This coincides with the document ‘How to be a Compassionate Employer’ which condenses down the key points to be aware of when dealing with someone who is grieving. Most of these recommendations focus on emotional and mental support, rather than financial. It can be accessed at this link (http://www.compassionatefriendsvictoria.org.au/Downloads/TCF%2010%20Way%20CEmp_v3.pdf)
My story aims to bring awareness to the way grief affects people around us. Especially in a workplace setting, as employers or colleagues may be oblivious to a bereaved person’s needs if the death has occurred years ago. Additionally they may not feel comfortable discussing it at all. As Wicking notes grief is “the elephant in the room.”
Many people gain their sense of worth through employment, so the return to work for a grieving person should enrich both their financial and emotional lives through supportive workplace practices.