Grief is the most potent emotion an individual can feel. The impact of grief on the families, teams and communities around that individual can be equally powerful.
It follows, then, that grief can also affect businesses. When employees experience a significant loss, either through the death of a colleague or that of a loved one, it can and usually does have a ripple effect throughout the workplace.
“In Africa, where work culture is often closely tied to family and community, workplace support for grieving employees is particularly important.”
Let’s explore how grief affects businesses, and share strategies for managers and businesses to support employees through difficult times.
Death affects us all
According to a study by the Society for Human Resource Management, the cost of grief in the workplace can be significant. Grieving employees are likely to experience decreased productivity or increased absenteeism, including episodic quiet quitting and higher healthcare costs. Employees who are grieving may also struggle with feelings of isolation and disconnection, which can lead to decreased job satisfaction and engagement.
It isn’t all doom and gloom, though. From a personal standpoint, the grieving process can be an opportunity for people to reflect on priorities, values and goals. By processing their emotions and experiences, employees can better understand themselves and their relationship with their work. It can lead to increased self-awareness, resilience and personal growth.
Professionally, the grieving process can also be an opportunity for growth. As employees navigate the complexities of grief, they can develop a range of valuable skills, such as empathy, communication and adaptability. These skills can translate to improved performance and productivity in the workplace.
Grief is a complex personal process
As leaders, we need to recognise the double-edged nature of grief and ensure that we provide a supportive environment for our team members and employees while finding ways to gently promote the positive facets of self-assessment and evaluation an individual will undergo. Interventions such as blended mental health sessions – where desired outcomes include improved communication and empathy – are an example of such an initiative.
But is this equitable? The impact of grief on small businesses in Africa can be even more significant, as many may not have the resources to provide adequate support to their employees.
Depending on the stats you look at, small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Africa account for 50 to 80% of employment in the formal sector. SMEs generally have different resources than larger companies to support their employees through difficult times. As a result, they may need help with handling the effects of grief on their workforce.
So what actions can SMEs take to help smooth the transition from grief to growth? And how to ensure the right kind of support in the workplace? Sendoff suggests strategies to consider:
1. Provide more paid time off: One of the most important things a manager can do is to allow employees the right amount of time off to grieve. This can include bereavement leave, flexible scheduling or remote work options. Giving employees the time and space they need to process their emotions and attend to their personal affairs can go a long way in helping them return to work with a renewed sense of purpose and engagement.
2. Offer counselling services: Many employees would benefit from counselling services to help them work through their grief. Companies can provide access to employee assistance programmes or offer on-site counselling services. This can be particularly helpful for those who may not have access or will not seek access to these services otherwise. There are a number of platforms that offer increasingly diverse channels for employees to access these services. Notably, the goals of these counselling services should focus on “building the post-grief person” and improving desirable habits and traits.
3. Foster a supportive work environment: The workplace can provide comfort and support during difficult times. Companies can systemise ways for employees to offer condolences and support during the grieving process. These can include simple gestures like automating the ability to send flowers and small gifts or offering to cover a shift, babysit or run errands.
4. Provide resources: Companies can offer resources to help employees cope with grief. This can include articles, books or other materials that provide guidance on coping with loss. Companies can also provide information on local support groups or other resources that may be helpful.
5. Create a memorial or tribute: Creating a memorial or tribute for the deceased can be a way to honour their memory and provide closure for employees. This can be a physical memorial, such as a plaque or garden, or a virtual memorial, such as a web page or social media post.
In Africa, where work culture is often closely tied to family and community, workplace support for grieving employees is particularly important. Companies prioritising workplace support can foster a sense of community and compassion among their employees, leading to a more positive work environment and a more engaged workforce.