Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Many people lost a loved one in the past two years due to Covid-19. Employees, communities, companies, organizations and institutions faced severe losses in the workforce and will never be the same as we were before 2020.
Despite this, many employers want the workplace to return to a certain degree of normalcy. While this may seem like a consciousness-based decision, the pandemic exposed apparent social issues and gaps organizations can no longer ignore if they want to adopt a more wellness-based enterprise and culture.
The workplace will never ultimately return to “normal,” because the global pandemic left a scar on the lives of the bereaved and their mental health. Before, grieving was situational; but in light of the pandemic, many people experienced tremendous loss — almost everyone was grieving, especially employees. The most important stakeholders are your employees, and their well-being is the most valuable asset to any organization. They are instrumental to incremental growth and development.
Grieving wasn’t always appropriately addressed by the workforce. Employers need to embrace this change, recognize when someone is grieving and make them feel comfortable about being transparent and vulnerable. The workplace has a duty to be mindful of employee and worker wellness.
The pandemic normalized grief and loss
Covid-19 has wholly transformed the working world, including how a company’s culture includes those who grieve. Grief is not only a series of emotions one experiences after losing someone — it is a new identity the bereaved needs to learn and understand. It is not an easy process, especially in the workforce. Believe it or not, grief fundamentally changes someone and their perspective. They may never be the same again — their values, motivations and interests may change.
The dire consequences of unsupported and untreated grief can have long-lasting effects in the workplace psychologically, emotionally and even financially. A company’s culture of death, loss and grief can be what makes someone stay or leave. The workplace needs to be proactively mindful of the people around them who may be experiencing feelings of grief and loss. Many withstanding challenges can become persistent when there is a lack of practices, policies or systemic culture to best support grieving employees.
Foster the emotional space
Grieving can be challenging and lengthy. When someone loses someone close to them, this can cause them to feel overwhelmed. They may worry about how they will manage their role and productivity. They may encounter additional stress, burnout and brain fog. Managers should open up the space for employees to share their feelings and express concerns about moving forward.
Ask your employee how they want to be supported. It is imperative to learn how to show up for employees, no matter how uncomfortable it may be.
Create environments where productivity and innovation can thrive. Employees should feel celebrated for their contributions to the organization. Employee autonomy is crucial because some are very comfortable talking about their grief, while others may not. It is their choice if they would like to talk about it, but knowingly having the support is what makes the difference. A thoughtful manager goes beyond delegating tasks and ensuring teams continue to be productive and organized.
Communication and support are two of the most valued components of the workplace. Employees are more than their position; therefore, managers must acknowledge their employees as people. These honest conversations allow leaders to identify where extra support is needed for teams to prosper and produce efficient results. Most importantly, this will help managers build rapport and better relationships with their team members and actively play a role in shifting how the company approaches workplace grief.
Some solely want work to remain at work, but investing in employees’ emotional support will be tremendously helpful for retention, cultural change and employee branding. Employees should not be alone and carry the burden of being the only ones initiating changes they want to see. Real change begins with upper management, and when they lead by example, it will trickle down to all areas of the company.
Thinking back and ahead
It isn’t only about creating a safe space for employees; fostering an environment that supports grief and loss includes implementing company-wide policies to produce structural changes. Do you offer generous bereavement leave for employees to reflect on their grief? If so, is it communicated thoroughly to employees?
Do you have mental health training for employees to take? If you do not, consider consulting with outside trainers or starting your own training plan. It is necessary to make sure you highlight the area of grief, so your colleagues will know how to treat and support people who are grieving.
Create a comprehensive grieving plan if you think your company can benefit from an individual training plan. This plan can detail what grieving is, how emotionally hard it can be, why it is essential to recognize it, the emotional toll it can have on someone, how to be empathetic to others and even suicide awareness to address workplace mental health and suicide.
Begin your meetings with mental health check-ins to see how everyone is doing emotionally. Consider hosting a “lunch and learn event” on what grieving is like in the workplace and how it impacts and intersects with occupational identities.
Sometimes, your entire company will experience grief when an employee passes away. Consider implementing a course of action on how they can be honored. Would you give your employees a paid day off to grieve? It would help if you had a communication plan to outline what your message would be to the entire company. Does your company specifically outline mental health benefits if your employees need professional care?
Always have the conversation
If you want your company to embrace a culture of support for grief and loss, the conversation must always be happening. The conversation cannot stop when things seem to return to “normal.” Grieving is a lifelong journey, and the support must always be there. Finally, grief is just one aspect of creating a workplace of holistic wellness and well-being. You can’t only tackle grief; you must ensure that all work areas of wellness are treated and supported.