Experiencing grief and bereavement are traumatic and can hamper one’s ability to be productive, think clearly or perform everyday tasks. The grieving process can sometimes be as traumatic as the preceding incident. HR professionals need to plan and establish resources to minimize the effects of a workplace crisis or personal traumatic event after the fact. This should reduce the psychological effects of the event and assist those affected in managing the healing process with success. In addition, HR professionals should not view grief as a negative disruption, but rather a natural process that grievers must experience to re-establish normalcy in their lives.
To effectively assist employees, companies should consider developing a crisis response plan and team to provide support and counseling to those affected by traumatic incidents, suicides, accidents or other situations involving death or serious injuries. Typically, organizations create a team of individuals who are trained to respond by gathering resources, requesting outside assistance (if needed), making decisions regarding the aftermath of the crisis, etc. In addition, the crisis team and HR staff provide support, awareness workshops, flexible scheduling and Employee Assistance Program (EAP) referrals to get employees on track to recovery.
Stages of Grief
To be of the most assistance to employees, crisis team members and HR professionals must understand the stages of grief that one experiences after a traumatic event. Though everyone is different, there is a predictable grieving pattern that most go through: shock, denial, anger, guilt, depression, acceptance and growth. This process may take weeks, months or even years to go through. The recovery process also depends on the relationship that the grieving individual had with the deceased or how close the individual was to the traumatic event that occurred.
During shock and denial, the bereaved may feel numb from the situation and may find it hard to believe that the traumatic event occurred in the first place. Employees in this stage of grief may consume themselves with work to avoid dealing with the situation. During the anger stage, the bereaved may express anger toward the deceased or crisis situation for causing such pain, or anger in general towards others. After this stage, grieving individuals tend to experience guilt for what they could have done to change the situation.
Grievers then tend to feel depressed, especially during normally happy times (such as holidays, birthdays or anniversaries). As grieving individuals heal from this point, they slowly begin to accept their “new normal” and can grow. Beyond going through these stages, crisis situations can also lead to psychological difficulties, such as suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in which grief-stricken individuals experience extreme depression, anxiety, fear, sleep disruptions and withdrawal.
Though PTSD cannot always be prevented, there are things you can do to assist employees going through these hard times.
Experiencing grief and bereavement are traumatic and can hamper one’s ability to be productive, think clearly or perform everyday tasks. HR professionals need to plan and establish resources to minimize the effects of a workplace crisis or personal traumatic event after the fact.
To assist your workforce in dealing with a traumatic event, consider implementing the following policies, led by a crisis management team:
- Provide support groups or connections to support groups for employees who have experienced a loss.
- Train management to successfully identify signs of grief and offer EAP assistance or guidance from an outside professional.
- Offer bereavement leave with pay for the passing of immediate family members (and extended relatives if your program allows) for full- and part-time workers. If a crisis occurs in the workplace, offer bereavement leave for those who were affected. If an employee loses a spouse or child, consider offering them extended time off.
- Encourage your employees to take a leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 if they are taking care of a terminally ill family member. This will help them devote their time and energy to their family, and then be more prepared to come back to work later on, as juggling family and work responsibilities may be too much for some to handle in the thick of dealing with an illness.
- Create a resource team of outside professionals from the community to assist your workforce in the event of a crisis: psychologists, firefighters, law enforcement, paramedics, nurses, etc.
- Offer a leave bank and encourage your employees to donate unused vacation and sick time to the bank for others to use. For instance, if you had an employee who used all of his or her allotted vacation time to take care for a terminally ill child, then he or she could tap into the leave bank to attend the funeral and take care of family arrangements once the child has passed away. This is a great way for employees to help one another when they are in the most need of assistance.
- If employees are willing to do so, encourage them to talk about their experiences and share their grief. Open communication and talking about feelings may assist in the healing process.
If a crisis occurred in the workplace, consider also taking on the following responsibilities:
- Help plan or coordinate funerals, as needed or desired by the family.
- Plan memorial events, sites or symbols in memory of victims.
- Create funds to help victims’ families.
- Address community concerns after the crisis.
- Deal with media requests.
It is simply not enough to manage through a crisis situation without taking a proactive role in helping your employees deal with it. It is important to recognize the psychological consequences of the event and to work with your employees to help them heal. This should ultimately make them more loyal to your organization and help them flourish as individuals and members of your staff.
This post is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as professional advice. © 2010-2011 Zywave, Inc. All rights reserved.