Bereavement, grief and loss: what to look out for

10 April 2018

As a manager, and a colleague, it is important to have some understanding of what is happening in your team and how people are feeling. This includes the grief, bereavement and loss 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 avoid extra costs. While there aren’t any targeted statistics on grief’s financial impact on Australian workplaces, in America past estimates have indicated an annual economic burden of at least $37.5 billion.

Experts agree it’s likely to be a similarly large picture here: “Grief is a huge burden on the economy, particularly with days off work,” says suicide bereavement and postvention expert Jill Fisher.

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 bereavement, grief and loss signs

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

Grief can occur for many reasons

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

There can also be cultural differences that affect their behaviour 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 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 booklets can provide you with guidance during this time.