Grief and Goodbyes at Work

We all experience grief at some point in our lives and many of us will be familiar with the grief cycle of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance (Kubler-Ross, 1969). This cycle has been depicted in movies and TV shows and you may have heard it from a caring friend or relative after the passing of a loved one. The passing of someone we love is a familiar context for grief, we know what it looks like, sounds like and feels like. Grief in the workplace is a less familiar context and has less consideration but can have equal immediate and long-term impact on us as grief in any other context.

Vickers (2009) explored workplace grief and found that many workplaces have processes and policies in place for supporting employees who are experiencing grief from outside sources but many do not adequately consider the grief generated within or because of the workplace, the most common trigger for which is redundancy. This is an area where COVID-19 has had a significant impact – there are 32% more unemployed people in Australia in September 2020 than September 2019 (ABS, 2020). There will be people of all ages experiencing redundancy for the first time due to this pandemic and it’s worth considering their experience and the potential support needed.

Like the five stages of grief, Vickers (2009) has identified four stages of workplace grief relating to redundancy: Something Changed; Loss Commenced; Loss Confirmed; and Afterwards.

Something Changed is not always associated with redundancy but in all of Vickers’ subjects they talked about a period of euphoria, flying high on the organisations’ achievements, feeling highly committed, excited and values aligned before feeling like something changed. It was hard for the participants to pinpoint one single thing but this feeling of unease was evident and nearly all of them used the exact term “but then something changed”.

Loss Commenced was when this “change” became evident. It was more visible that things were shifting and was clearly tangible, there may have been conversations around reductions in duties or restructuring. Vickers highlights that this period is still before redundancy is a reality but is when the loss of things once enjoyed starts to be felt.

Loss Confirmed brings certainty – redundancy is happening and is the most emotional stage, characterised by anger, frustration, humiliation, rejection and anxiety. Things that were comfortable, enjoyable and valued are gone and often seen as having been “taken away”.

Afterwards has no fixed timeframe. The period after leaving the organisation will potentially see the emotions experienced in earlier stages fade over time. However, they don’t always and can still be felt after the person secures a new position. Some participants continued to report feelings of anger, uncertainty and mistrust towards their new organisation, even when it was perceived to be a “better” role than the one they left.

Grief is normal, be it after the passing of a loved one or leaving a position we love through redundancy. Experiencing grief in a healthy way enables us to understand and adapt to our “new normal”. Now is the time to connect with the support you need to process this experience, the danger in not doing so could see future endeavours impacted by the emotional hangover caused by this period of grief. Do you reach out to friends and family? Do you talk to those sharing the same experience? Do you get busy with budgeting, or planning? Or do you switch off and take some time to relax and reconnect with yourself? Maybe you’re not sure what’s next or don’t know how to process these emotions? Working with a Life Coach can help order these emotions and start you on a path forward, clearing the way for you to feel excitement about what’s next.


References

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), (2020). Labour Force, Australia, September 2020. Retrieved from https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/labour/employment-and-unemployment/labour-force-australia/latest-release

Kubler-Ross, E. (1969). On death and dying. Sydney, Australia: Tavistock. 

Vickers, M. H. (2009). Journeys Into Grief: Exploring Redundancy for a New Understanding of Workplace Grief. Journal of Loss and Trauma, 14(5), 401–419. doi:10.1080/15325020902724198 

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