Episode 79: When Grief Comes to Work - for Managers and Supervisors

DCO Discourse...

26-04-2020 • 26 mins

Every worker experiences loss at some point in time. It can result from a personal or family crisis or it can be a response to changes taking effect within the workplace itself. With the loss comes a grief response that can be visible in a variety of different ways, as workers continue to fulfill their roles in the organization. The loss can have a significant impact on a person’s ability to function and the productivity and effectiveness of the organization itself can be affected.

Integrating Grief Theory into Management Practice Workers within the distress centre environment are called upon regularly to demonstrate empathy and compassion as part of their role with callers. We must ask then, “How do managers and supervisors respond to the needs of staff and volunteers, when they are experiencing loss and need support?” Showing compassion and care to others, and encouraging such an environment among workers, helps contribute to greater job satisfaction, lowers job stress, and contributes to feelings of well-being and safety.

The research is limited in the area of organizational response to grief in the workplace. What is known however, is that the grieving process can become more prolonged or difficult if one does not feel cared for or supported. This could be an issue in an organization such as a distress centre, where staff or volunteers may often work alone and possibly without the direct presence of a supervisor or manager. There is a need to manage loss in the workplace and there are strategies to help managers do just that.

Yvette Perreault presents the theory of loss and helps us examine our own views about grief. She outlines the various ways that loss and grief can impact the workplace and the workers within an organization who are experiencing that grief. Ms. Perreault demonstrates the important role of managers and supervisors in making sure that the workplace is a caring and supportive environment for workers, and in particular, for those experiencing loss and grief. She outlines various strategies and tools for managing grief which help to facilitate a culture of caring within the workplace.

Questions for Further Consideration: What are the ways in which you know your workers and volunteers feel supported while in the workplace? How do you know this? Call responders often work alone in the distress centre and they can have limited contact with others beyond talking to the help line caller. This could lead to one experiencing a feeling of isolation while doing his or her work. As a supervisor or manager, what opportunities do you provide for your staff and volunteers to feel that they are members of a team - where they can both give and get support? Try to incorporate opportunities for volunteers and staff to interact and share with one another. This can be face to face, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be this way all the time. Written communications and feedback between managers, staff and volunteers can also act as a form of connection that helps minimize isolation and can help to build a caring community within the workplace. Look for ways to engage staff and volunteers and show support for their efforts to work together.

Loss and grief affect all working persons at some point in time. How mindful are you, as a manager or supervisor, of your role in managing loss in the workplace? The culture of caring and support that is felt within an organization begins with the first interactions that occur in the workplace. Be aware of the specific practices and procedures that are in place that facilitate a feeling of care amongst workers. Consider a mentorship between new and more experienced volunteers. This helps build skills in workers and also a feeling of connectedness within the centre. Make sure that workers are aware of procedures for getting assistance. Offer orientation sessions that include this information. If a positive culture exists within your centre, it is much easier to respond to loss and grief in a supportive way, when it does occurs.

It is never too late to build into an organization, the practices that can help create a supportive culture within the workplace. What considerations have been made by you as a manager or supervisor to ensure that there is an effective response to grief in the workplace? The distress centre has a unique opportunity to address grief in the workplace with its workers. Addressing the topic of grief as a professional learning activity is an excellent way of making staff and volunteers aware of the theory of loss and how this may apply when they are taking calls on the distress/crisis line. At the same time, managers and supervisors can use this venue for making a connection with staff and volunteers regarding their own experiences of loss. Review with them the impact that grief can have on workers and the workplace. This can go a long way in helping staff and volunteers be aware of and manage their own loss and grief, and set the stage for healthy ways of responding to grief in the workplace.

Glossary Compassion Fatigue: the profound physical and emotional erosion that takes place when helpers are unable to refuel and regenerate Vicarious traumatization: the profound shift in world view that workers experience when they work with clients who have experienced trauma Burnout: the physical and emotional exhaustion that workers can experience when they have low job satisfaction and feel powerless and overwhelmed at work