Grief in the Workplace


The topic focuses on defining grief as an effect which is the result of a range of causes which will be defined along and supported by examples. In the review, the process of managing grief will also be defined along examples that would support the theory and set a base of what needs to be done to as a minimum to manage grief or a grieving person. A few real life examples in certain industries will be used to verify the argument and strengthen its position.


While looking for a formal definition of grief, I found an article (Dowling, 2000) that quoted Parkers (1986) who defined “grief as the price we pay for love.” As I first read the quote, it wasn’t clear enough to me if this would actually work as a definition. But then, I thought who doesn’t know what grief is? Or who hasn’t gone through some kind of experience where they directly or indirectly experienced some sort of grief. Grainger (1990) defines grief as “the natural response to loss” and that “loss is an inevitable part of living”. When grieving, there are physical reactions that express grief to the people and environment around us. Some of these physical reactions may include “crying, disruptions in sleep and eating patterns, stomachaches and headaches, increased susceptibility to illness, and change in energy level.” (Broadway, 2008). Therefore, and when considering the above mentioned quote, it is only those who love someone or something that would grive their loss. In his article, Booth (2011) states that “the well-known Kubler-Ross model of grief has five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.” Since the literature review discusses a sort of mechanism that handles grief and grieving people, the five stages have to be understood. They are quite simple and self-explanatory. The only complication associated with them is that there is no certain time that each stage would take or how severe each stage can be as explained by the series of lectures to support this work. It was actually pointed out by Kubler-Ross (1969) as she explained that each person differs from the other in the way the respond to the event that triggered the grieving cycle as well as that their response differs as their personalities do. The review will also take into account a few examples of already existing systems that are utilised to handle grief and grieving people at the workplace.


This is the first stage which is basically what happens when the person is shocked with the bad news and does not believe that such a thing happened (Kubler-Ross, 1969). In the article by Grainger (1990), “we are too shocked or too much in denial to accurately perceive reality, much less to make good, long-term judgments and decisions”. In the article by Maxim and Mackavery (2005), they state that “during the initial stages of loss, most people react with shock or numbness, commonly followed by feelings of searching and distress”.  In the workplace, grief can be at a personal or a professional level. The grieving process that we are discussing here and how to handle it is the one that occurs at a personal level but is affecting a person’s professional work environment.  Benekl (2009) explains that “social support is important during the bereavement period and influences which form of social support the grieving person needs”. Moreover, grief management as a process would depend on the event and the person affected by the event to be handled successfully. In his article, David (2010) refers to that “the workplace needs to be compassionate, caring, competent, and confident without complacency.” He also states that the workplace does not only involve only colleagues, but also managers along with human resource specialists. He argues that the well-being of an individual is collectively the well-being of the organisation which would result in better performance. Since denial is the first stage and is the gateway to anger, it is essential for the people surrounding the grieving person to show their comparison at an early stage to reduce the severity of the second stage. Angie (2009) mentions that despite how personal grief is, it is felt by the entire organisation, hence the importance of managing grief in the workplace.


Anger follows denial, and is the first emotion that develops once the person recognises what has actually happened (Kubler-Ross 1969). According to Grainger (1990), anger “is a more direct emotion that depression” and that sports and exercise should be used “to expel the intensity of anger and frustration”. In his paper, Estelle (2010) discusses that “managers need to respond quickly and compassionately, yet still have regard for personal boundaries.” That is, and in such a vital stage, a manager or even a co-worker would not want to cross certain limits with a grieving person who feels anger. He adds that the situation requires “sensitivity and accommodation” in order to handle the situation in a desirable manner to the workplace as a whole. Estelle has also identified “suggestions for appropriate workplace responses” which are:

“1. become familiar with the grieving process.

2. Consider employees’ relationships with their co-workers.

3. Find out what resources are available.”

As the grieving process is of five stages, employees would need to be briefed about them so that they would have a better comprehension of what the grieving person is going through. Moreover, the organisation should have identified resources in terms of medical care and support for those grieving. This can be done through either having in-house psychologists in the organisation or by paying the fees of independent ones.


Is the second emotion developed which is best illustrated by the person’s lost of interest in anything that they would normally do or would have done (Kubler-Ross, 1969). In this stage, the person would have begun to understand the implications of loss that had happened. O’Connor (2010), she mentions that grief does have to be directly related to the grieving person. It means that a person might be grieving as an affect of a member in the family grieving because of the death of another. She uses the Australian workplaces as a basis for her research which concluded that there is minimal legislation in the concerned matter and that only a few organisations are taking the initiative to provide support. The issue, as she discusses, is of high importance as the workforce inAustraliais shrinking and depressed people provide minimal effort to manage their daily activities and duties which in return affects the organisation’s economical position as a whole. In her study, she mentions that the Australian legislation “allows up to two days compassionate leave.” Two days cannot be possibly enough neither is three days which is the average that employers would allow (Maxim and Mackavey, 2005). As the grieving cycle differs from one person to the other in time and depth of stages (Kubler-Ross, 1969), it cannot be predetermined that it would take two days for a person to get on track towards accepting what has happened. In an Anonymous article (2010), “Kaplan, who is a clinical and forensic psychologist, suggests employers keep things as stable as they can after a traumatic event. Don’t start any new projects and don’t make any major changes for at least six to eight weeks, he says”. In their article, Maxim and Mackavey (2005) mention that grieving employees “may experience insomnia and weight loss, lack of appetite, headaches, anxiety, fear and even hair loss  According to Grainger (1990), you should “pay attention to basic physical needs-nutrition, sleep, exercise- to keep your ‘body machine” working properly”. Grainger also mentions that a person should avoid “alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, sleeping pills, and excessive food” when depressed. This should be closely monitored by employers to ensure their employees’ well-being.


Bargaining is the stage in which the person starts asking questions about why certain things happened and led to the matter that they are grieving about. It’s the stage when the person tries to negotiate to return to the original state. Lowes (1997) uses the example of “Alton Multispecialists” and the death of its founder “Chester Hill”. In the example, Lowes provides evidence of how the death of not just a leader but also the founder could affect the organisation as a whole and the way the vision was initially transmitted to employees by that former leader and founder. However, in the scenario that he explains, the employees could collaboratively get through the death of their founder. They provided support to one another during the grieving of their founder. The way they did it was quite interesting. Interestingly, they considered what their founder would have wanted them to do and what he would have wanted to achieve in his life time through his establishment. Lowes (1997) mentions that “Randall J. Rogalsky, today the group’s chairman” says about the founder that “he’d taken steps to transform the group into one whose members shared in the day-to-day operations and decision making”. According to the chairman, the founder of the group has encouraged a culture that can survive independently rather than on the founder’s survival. As part of his theory of his “shared leadership and concept”, they could carry on his vision and the business was a success. The bargaining stage, to the employees here, was of key importance as it is the gateway to acceptance as denial is to anger. It is only when they started asking the right questions about what the business founder would have wanted them to do that they started working together and accepting the tragedy of his death. As a result, they could keep the business successfully running with increasing profits generated annually. Another example that could be possiblly used is the death of Steve Jobbs and the success of Apple Corporation after his death.


At this stage, the person has totally accepted what has happened. Also, at this stage; the person starts to return to the normal life routine and activities. In the research carried out by Shimoinaba, Kaori, O’Connor, Lee, and Greaves in 2009, they studied how nurses in the Japanese culture react to grief and how their reaction affects their overall performance when dealing with patients. It also discusses support systems that are put in place for these nurses to accept what has happened. Even though the concern is the lives of patients, acceptance is already the end of it. in other words, just a little more need to be done to speed up the process as in to not put the lives of others in danger. In this and other life scenarios, acceptance is when the person can start performing as they used to be before the grieving process started. According to Kubler-Ross (1969), talking is the best method used to speed up any stage of the grieving cycle, including acceptance. This can be with a friend, a family member, or qualified professional. As an overall result of acceptance, the workplace would be back to normal with the normal level of energy being brought back to the individual, hence the organisation as a whole. Yet, that does not necessarily mean that the employee is totally okay and might require some more time. According to Grainger (1990), “there is no schedule to which you can-or should- compare your own course”. Instead, and for a successful grieving, you should “allow emotional expression, cry out your grief, indulge yourself constructively, acknowledge and release anger, as for support-and accept it, say no to major stressors, move beyond regret, affirm your power to heal the deepest of wounds”.


As mentioned above, the literature review provides some sort of a framework that defines grief and certain guidelines that can be followed to better manage it. It also provides examples of how to handle grieving employees and how to also handle and perhaps solve the issues arising of the loss of an important person, in the case of one example, a dynamic leader in the organisation. The review explains more specific examples in terms of countries and industries to identify and analyze certain trends which would provide a better perspective towards the future of the grieving process and how to manage it. As a main conclusion to this review, there isn’t a single method that can be followed to handle grief but talking in general works. Its effectiveness is in speeding up each stage of the grief cycle. For an organisation, the more quickly the cycle passes, the healthier and more efficient the workplace environment would be. Therefore, it might be required from organisations to come up with their own support systems that go beyond legislations and minimum requirements to provide true support to grieving employees. They would also be required to perhaps brief and train employees of how important listening is to grieving people in order to speed up the process. As the training is not extensive, the minimal effort that an organisation needs to put is to set up an online course for employees to complete or to at least give out a few pages guidelines of what needs to be done. The importance of handling grief effectively and its benefits should be also explained to employees. Employees need to understand and comprehend all of the above and that it is for the overall good that they adhere to the training and guidelines provided.  In a few words, the sooner the grieving process is over, the sooner the organisation has the potential to return to its normal activities.


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