Angelica shared how she sat at the kitchen table with trembling hands as she gripped her laptop’s mouse. She was somewhat hesitant about clicking the “Join Meeting” button on her screen. The day before, however, she assured her HR Manager that she was ready to come back. They both agreed it was time. In one way, she was grateful for not having to confront her teammates in person. She was sure she was not ready for that. But was she actually ready for what she about to do? Maybe. Maybe not.
Either way, she clicked the button. As the virtual meeting began, a weekly planning session moderated by her supervisor, Angelica had no idea how her many colleagues on the screen would react to her, given the recent death of her spouse. Actually, she had no idea if anyone even knew about that at all.
One in four U.S. employees is experiencing grief at any given time
The American Hospice Foundation reports that each year over four million active U.S. employees go through the trauma of losing a family member. That equates to approximately one in every four workers experiencing some level of grief at any given time, in any given workplace. Other research groups, along with relevant federal agencies, reveal that ten to fifteen percent of U.S. workers annually suffer the death of a child, with the average age of the bereaved parent being around thirty-five years of age.
Thirty-five also happens to be the prime age of peak performance for the average employee. The U.S. CDC recently reported that over one million working-age women in the country endure a miscarriage every year, while another 26,000 grieve the traumatic stillbirth of a child. And even with all of this publicly available knowledge, so many organizations remain indifferent to the negative influences that bereavement will bring to the workplace.
American businesses lose over $100 Billion in annual revenue due to grief in the workplace.
Where does the proof exist that wide-spread indifference to grief remains in the business world today? How about a widely accepted study of over 25,000 bereaved souls actively employed at the time of their loss? While much was derived from that research, the relevant evidence here is the stunning find that American businesses collectively lose over $100 billion in annual revenue due to the negative impacts of grieving employees? That’s one-hundred billion dollars of loss each and every year for organizations across the country. And that unfathomable amount of forfeiture comes despite the fact that eliminating the loss need not cost an employee-centric company a single penny. But mortality is an uncomfortable topic. It’s not something frequently talked about in board meetings or planning sessions.
Yet, if it were discussed more, maybe the average of three short days of Bereavement Leave would no longer be the poor standard for U.S. businesses. Sadly, however, it is still only three days.
These difficult times have now become far more troubling on the business community at large. Angelica’s dear spouse passing from COVID-19 complications is absolutely tragic in itself. Yet, the pandemic has also brought concerns, and even far too many instances, of the virus directly invading the job site. Early on, wise organizations quickly sent many employees home to remotely perform their tasks. And while this may have helped in slowing the virus’s spread, it certainly has not halted its ominous threat. And now, while grief may no longer be as prevalent in some work places, it certainly still exists in the work force. It, too, has only gone remote. Still, there are no indications that organizational leaders today have taken any more measurable steps towards grief’s impacts than they did in the past. And in the past, they were mostly indifferent to it.
A majority of newly bereaved employees turn to co-workers for emotional support
Would business leaders be so indifferent to grief if they knew that troubled employees frequently turn to co-workers on the job for help? That’s the result of a commissioned study by the non-profit organization, The Compassionate Friends. And it only makes sense. After all, the average American worker will spend over 90,000 hours in a lifetime on the job. This means more awake time is spent with the work-family than with loved ones at home. And speaking of family, many employees consider the workplace to be a safe harbor. The physical and emotional security it provides is ofttimes rated second only to the home. One day, not so long ago, the workplace was just that for so many who’ve recently lost a loved one. One thing a newly bereaved employee frequently feels, however, is that the job site seems different upon return. Or, maybe indifferent is the better way to describe that.
Angelica survived her first day back, albeit only a brief virtual encounter with her second family. It was emotionally difficult for her, however. She still carried so much on her mind, including the uncertainty of a future once planned with someone who was always supposed to be there. Now, her first exposure at work was also filled with anxiety and concern. Would that future be different as well? Feeling grief’s typical unease, she sensed that her once caring colleagues were purposely avoiding her on the call. She became suspicious that they seemed to avoid eye contact through the screen. Was there a look of pity in their eyes when she did have a rare occasion to speak? Did Ray, her teammate, unexpectedly leave the meeting early just to sidestep discussing the project they shared? Or was she just imagining all of this? Were any of these perceptions real, or were they only manifestations of her troubled mind? Real or not, it brought her anxiety. Real or not, it brought her questions. Real or not, it brought those negative influences of grief to the entire company. This happens far too frequently in an organization indifferent to grief in the workplace.