Content Warning: This Newsletter discusses loss and death, including birthing loss, traumatic events, and current global events of genocide and ethnic cleansing.
For many, December is a month of celebration and tradition. We look forward to events, parties, gatherings, the change in tempo, food, and connecting to our culture (and each other). However, for many—and often the same many, the holiday season is a stark reminder of loss and a more glaring longing for those no longer with us. National Grief Awareness Week fittingly fell from December 2nd to 8th, at the beginning of the Christian, Jewish, and Eurocentric “holiday season”. The week promotes available support and resources, encouraging people to share stories and build community as many already have grief and loss on their minds.
The workplace in recent decades has become the dominant social, emotional, and resource cornerstone. A full-time employee spends at least 40 hours in the workplace, making our co-workers, managers, and offices a large portion of where we not only socialize but live our lives. Across the country, employees are not given a realistic bereavement period. Inadequate bereavement policies cost the United States over 75 billion dollars, due to distressed employees forced to return amid their grief. Hidden in this statistic is the real truth: regardless of revenue statistics, companies are failing to truly support grief. The problem is not performance or the natural changes of life, it is individuals not being held by the community they spend most of their time within, and marks the dissonance of our culture being comfortable confronting death and loss. When companies fail to honor grief, it perpetuates a culture that ignores the complexities of human existence.
Equity bridges the gap between someone showing up to work their shift, and someone being nurtured and allowed to be healed by their community. This culture extends beyond the immediate period of mourning and is present throughout an individual’s entire grieving process. Grief does not have a definitive timeline and presents itself uniquely within each person. This is where the culture of community, communication, and curiosity can become a protective factor.
Everyone grieves differently, and we only know what a person needs when we listen and talk openly about what we are experiencing. Moving away from cliches and assumptions (such as “everything happens for a reason”, “they are in a better place”, or “You are not given more than what you can handle”), helps us to build understanding and show up with empathy. Examples of positive language include: “I’m here if you need to talk”, “I know this is hard, what do you need?” “Let’s take a walk, I want to listen to you”. The workplace can become a place of mutual care where we talk openly about our grief, listen to our team members, and discover creative ways to support one another. During this season, we can ask ourselves and have discussions about what these cultural practices could be. Even if policy and law remain unchanged, employees can come together to foster a culture of care and healing. This can look like:
- Curating spaces for talking openly, regardless of position
- Offering tools in the office for respite and care
- Connecting employees with resources, tools, and comforts (at no cost)
- Going out of our way to surround grieving coworkers with generosity and support
- Being flexible with schedules to accommodate needs
- Recognizing the silent signs of grief and reaching out to help
We can be creative in how we imagine these practices, but it starts with a conversation and leadership stepping forward to ignite the journey, and remain involved to support and nourish these practices.
For employees/those experiencing grief:
https://www.vnshealth.org/hospice-care/emotional-support-services/grief-support-groups/ (specifically for grieving those lost by suicide)
For leadership/for businesses/people ops:
https://ari.fyi/grief – Workshop/coaching for company leaders
https://empathicworkplace.com/ – training and resources
https://www.cliniciansurvivor.org/new-page (on grieving a staff members)
– Kaitlinn is a writer and editor in New York City and Communications Coordinator for Equity and Belonging at Vibrant Emotional Health. Her publications include stories of addiction and recovery, mental health research, and creating equitable practices within mental health organizations. At Vibrant, she works with a team to implement training and practices for diversity, equity, and belonging and works to share stories of hope and recovery within the agency’s programs.