Bereavement, grief and loss: what to look out for

06 October 2016

As a manager, you need to maintain an understanding of what is happening in your team and how your people are. This includes the grief, bereavement and loss that they will inevitably experience at some stage.

From a workplace perspective, knowing when someone in your team is going through a tough time can help to avoid additional costs. While there aren’t any targeted statistics on the financial impact of grief on Australian workplaces, in America past estimates have indicated an economic burden of at least $37.5 billion annually. Experts agree that it’s likely to be a similarly large picture here.

“Grief is a huge burden on the economy, particularly with days off work,” says Jill Fisher, suicide bereavement and postvention expert.

There are many other ways in which providing support to a bereaved employee can help, too.

“With good support, people can return to work quicker, grieve well and experience a transformative effect,” says Fisher.


Looking out for signs of bereavement, grief and loss

The signs that someone is dealing with a bereavement will vary for everyone. Grief is as individual as each person is, and so the main thing to look out for is a change in the person’s usual behaviour at work.

“There’s a change in the person’s usual way of being or perhaps an obsessive way of not being able to move past it,” Fisher explains. “There’s a yearning and desire in wanting to talk about it or, depending on the person’s personality, not wanting to talk about it.”

You might also notice some physical signs that someone isn’t coping.

“Grief can be psychological and physical,” says Fisher. “There are physical signs that grief can produce in people, like not being able to engage or being unable to get out of bed.”

Many of these signs may seem similar to those of mental health illnesses such as depression, however depression is considered more persistent and continuous. Grief, on the other hand, is a natural response to loss and generally comes in waves that allows the person to also experience happiness.

It’s important to note, too, that loss and grief isn’t always a reference to death. People can grieve a loss of anything that is important to them, and include things like a marriage breakdown, the loss of a job or the death of a loved one. It is generally acknowledged that the more significant the loss, the more intense the person’s grief will be.

In addition to the different ways in which circumstances and people’s personalities can affect their display of grief, there can also be cultural differences that affect their behaviours and needs during this time.

Fisher says, “It’s important to know how to recognise grief, to know cultural differences and to allow for cultural practises.” This level of understanding can help you provide the support the person needs in order to get back to work at full capacity.

It’s difficult to know what to do when someone you know is grieving. SuperFriend’s Managing Bereavement, Grief and Loss is a 20-minute online program that helps you learn how to help people who are dealing with loss.