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Grief Workshops: How to Ensure Wellness at Work

grief support workplace wellness Jan 03, 2023
Grief Workshops

By: Kim Hanlon & Sarah Loughry


It can be so difficult to return to work after a loss or when going through a difficult time. I was back in the office not even a week after my brother died, not knowing what else to do with myself and having just recently returned from short-term disability. I appreciated the hugs my work friends provided, and managed to push out replies when management checked on how I was coping. It was awkward to join that first department meeting and not know what to say or if others should be saying something - anything - to me. Grief can be confusing.

While the transition back to work was an exhausting mix of appreciating the support of coworkers and also wishing they would let me talk about my brother constantly, the logical part of me knew that others’ lives were not shattered and it was normal for them to not also be fixated on my heartbreak. 

It can be very isolating grieving at work, and no one is immune from loss. Not everyone has lost a loved one, but most of us have experienced breakups, job loss, pet death, or moving. Each of these are grieving experiences, as are work events like company reorgs, or layoffs. We even grieve promotions as we navigate the associated changes and conflicting feelings of advancing ahead of peers or beyond any other family member's professional achievement. 

Grief is painful and sometimes scary, but in truth,  it’s an opportunity to forge stronger teams and tighter personal bonds with office colleagues. As Mr. Rogers taught us, “what’s mentionable is manageable”, and there are opportunities for a workplace to be a vibrant community of love and support. 

Unfortunately, most of us have very little experience managing bereavement, and that’s where a grief workshop can be immensely valuable for employee health and wellbeing.  With a single seminar, coworkers can be given the language and tools to support a colleague who has experienced a painful loss. It’s better for employees, and it’s better for business, too. 

The Current Way of Doing Business

Data is everything in the modern world, and metrics are valuable sources of information for productivity, ROI, and output. Many companies apply metrics to wellness goals as well, and while, yes, providing wellness benefits can positively impact the company bottom line, there is value in fostering a culture of wellness in and of itself. We believe both are important, as a toxic work culture in a company that offers great benefits will result in an unhealthy team, and the metrics will reflect that.

We are inspired by the shift away from the unhealthy productivity-is-the-main-focus towards a more balanced management approach. The pandemic highlighted that behind the scenes, so many workers are balancing the entire scope of human experience, from the birth of a child to the death of a partner and everything in between. 

The result is increasing advocacy for quality of life balance (for example, the quiet quitting trend) and also realization that managers need more “soft skills” training to combat rampant burnout. Having the skills to recognize one’s own stress in addition to supporting employees will lessen overwhelm.

Part of this work-life-balance equation is bereavement leave. For years, only two states—Washington and Oregon—granted mandatory paid grief leave for employees who suffer the trauma of losing a loved one. They were finally joined by California in late 2022, but as it stands, the management of grief in the workplace is usually a few days grace period. 

But it shouldn’t be. 

The Toll it Takes

Grief-related issues cost businesses as much as $75 billion every year - but we believe that the pandemic has pushed that number even higher. 

Today, only 60% of private sector employees get paid bereavement leave after the death of a loved one, and usually only one to two days. Unfortunately, grief simply can’t be ameliorated in 48 hours. It’s extremely complex, and nothing about it is one-size-fits-all. The loss of a parent, an infant, or a spouse all present different challenges and emotions. Stroke, suicide, terminal illness, and accidents all add layers of complexity, and demand different management strategies and considerations.

The reality is it can take months or even years for the trauma to subside, and that means ongoing potential workplace challenges. People who have experienced personal loss are highly vulnerable to anxiety-related issues or depression. They may obsess over a lost loved one, particularly if it’s a child. From a workplace management standpoint, there can easily be a disconnect between experiencing past trauma and simply having a bad day. Birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries of tragic events can all trigger painful emotions and reactions that can impact employee performance. 

Finally, stress from grief ratchets up sleeplessness and vulnerability to illness, and that means more lost time in the office. The cost is exaggerated when employees are required to use sick days or personal days when they exceed the brief respite offered by their employer. The increased likelihood of illness means they are going to be taking those days down the line regardless. The result is even more stress, difficulty concentrating, and lost productivity. 

Yahdav & Hanlon: Grief Workshops For Workplace Wellness

We know from personal experience that grief is a non-linear, unique journey towards a renewed and impactful life. We started Yahdav & Hanlon to give people the tools and support they need to manage grief and recapture their joy and peace of mind. It is not time that heals, it is what one does in that time.

We specialize in corporate grief support, and our grief workshops are tailored to help build better culture and practices for grief management in the workplace. Our grief workshops teach employees how to engage in difficult conversations and help colleagues rebuild themselves while they continue to make an earnest contribution to the success of the team.

Grief and trauma are an unavoidable fact of life, and crafting workplaces that are supportive and serious about managing it means creating companies that are more successful, efficient, and productive.

Visit Yahdav & Hanlon to learn more about making a grief workshop part of your workplace wellness strategy. 

Develop your personalized grief support action plan with our "Grief & Gratitude" workbook.

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