Grieving in the workplace – WorkWise

Most of us have lost a loved one at some point in our lives. But did you ever consider that workplaces suffer “losses” as well? When a fellow worker leaves due to illness, relocation to work in another area, or even retirement, it still feels like a loss to those left behind at the workplace and often to those leaving. And it does feel just like someone has died.

Workers who faced job terminations and layoffs this past couple of years left with the same feeling. Their sense of purpose and self-esteem went with them. And their “work families” were left behind feeling shocked, angry, worried, vulnerable, and guilty. Employers who had to downsize likely faced real issues with their remaining workers, especially if the one who left was popular.

When I interviewed people about their retirement a couple years ago, I was surprised to hear how much of their identity was tied up with where they worked and what job they did. Even though all were leaving by choice, they were surprised by the sense of loss they felt. Their connection to the worksite was gone and so was some of their sense of identity. One retiree told me that she was not prepared for the depth of loss she felt leaving her co-workers behind.

Co-workers left behind suffer as well. Whether the leaving is by choice or not, the “loss” of a well-liked co-worker throws everything out of balance. And the dynamics of the workplace change greatly when someone new comes on board. It can be pure anxiety and stress for everyone.

Employers would do well to recognize how the loss of a co-worker affects the remaining staff members. Losing a friend and workmate is a double whammy, especially if the office is closely knit. It can take a lot of time to build a relationship with a newcomer. It may also take the office time to recover and make a successful adjustment.

Being sensitive to staff feelings is an important skill in being a good employer and recognizing that staff may need time to come to terms with loss is essential.

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