Based on the latest figures of the National Bureau of Statistics (2013) an estimated 3 per cent of the UAE working population is affected by loss and grief, which adds up to more than 120,000 employees, at any given time.
These figures only seem to reveal the tip of the iceberg, as the subject of grief and loss is not something we feel very comfortable talking about, and so far few statistics are available on the effects of grief in the workplace.
“Grief is not an illness; it is the natural and normal response to loss. We often think of grief as a result of losing someone close through death, however other significant losses such as separation, divorce, illness or dealing with financial issues can also cause grief reactions,” said Marjan Kaddouri, Grief Recovery Specialist and Trainer.
According to Marjan, there can be an expectation in some organizations that a person should return to work within days after experiencing a devastating loss. For some, work may certainly offer a welcome distraction, but it is important to remember that others may need more time as the grieving process is very individual and can sometimes be delayed for months.
People who have experienced grief say it feels like being on a rollercoaster, where you experience waves of grief bursts, followed by periods of ‘feeling ok’. Grief may leave you feeling overwhelmed at times with the emotions that are a normal part of the grieving process, such as sadness, anger, difficulty to concentrate and feeling exhausted. Memories could be flooding in when you least expect it and throw you off completely.
“Working in the UAE, many people consider co-workers as friends, sometimes almost family, due to the fact that most people live away from their network of family and friends back home. Yet when a colleague or employee experiences a loss, many managers feel challenged as they may have to break the news or support the employee when he/she receives such news.
Naturally the intention is to be helpful, but the majority of managers have had no preparation or training whatsoever on how to best handle this difficult and sensitive situation,” commented Patricia O’Sullivan, Owner of PROTRAINING. Her company will shortly launch ‘Managing Grief in the Workplace’ to fill this need. This corporate development programme will be the first of its kind in this region.
In a 2014 report conducted by the HR Observer, more than 170 polled companies in the Middle East said that employee engagement was their number one priority for 2015 and beyond. Business leaders are now more than ever paying attention to the strategic importance of an engaged workforce. It will come as no surprise that employees who feel unsupported at the time of grief will be less productive and engaged. They may stay absent for a prolonged time, lose focus or make more mistakes when they do return to work.
Research shows that the single most critical factor in coming to terms with grief is social support. According to Iain Lauder, senior teaching fellow in organizational behaviour at Edinburgh Business School: “The most important job for the manager is to be able to acknowledge the loss that the individual has suffered. This will not only make the individual concerned feel supported, but can also open the dialogue on how the immediate team can help”.
But how do you talk about this delicate subject?
Carey Kirk, Programme Manager of the Raymee Grief Centre in Dubai suggests acknowledging the loss by showing empathy rather than sympathy. “When talking to a coworker or employee who has gone through a bereavement, it is important to keep in mind that our goal for speaking to them should be to support them. We cannot fix the experience they have been through nor can we make it better, but we can be there for them,” Carey Kirk said.
As a manager you cannot make the grief go away, or manage the grief for the employee, but you can create an environment where work can progress as your employee moves through the grief process and recovers from his or her grief.
Aside from showing compassion to your employees, effectively dealing with grief at work also makes good business sense and can give your organisation a definite competitive advantage with a motivated workforce.
PROTRAINING will offer a one-day workshop on ‘Managing Grief in the Workplace’ covering all aspects of loss and grief and practical ways to support grieving employees at work.
6 Things to Never Say to Someone Who is Grieving:
1.I know how you feel – you can never know exactly how someone else feels, you only know how you felt when your loss occurred.
2.Look on the bright side, at least the suffering is over – this may be intellectually correct, but not emotionally true for the griever.
3.Don’t feel bad. Be grateful for the time you had together – a griever can be both grateful for the time shared and feel bad, they are not mutually exclusive.
4.Everything happens for a reason – this may be true but will not make the griever feel any better.
5.Just give it time – it implies that time will heal, which is not necessarily true.
6.Be strong – this is suggesting that the griever should hide their feelings rather than dealing with the natural and normal response to grief.