Guest Column: How much is grief costing you?

By Teresia Rose-Reed
Special to the Herald Times
RBC | In 2003, The Grief Recovery Institute conducted a landmark study of the “hidden” annual costs of grief in the workplace. The findings of the “Grief Index” were astonishing. The major causes of employee grief in order of severity are: death of a loved one, divorce, family crisis, financial loss, death of extended family or friends, major lifestyle alteration, loss of a pet and finally, all other causes. “Grief is the normal and natural emotional reaction to the change or end in any familiar pattern of behavior.” Grief is also defined as the physical, behavioral, and emotional reactions to a loss. The entire range of human emotion falls within those normal reactions.
It is thought that financial stress is the major cause of grief and stress in society today. However, based on the Grief Index, the death of a loved one was found to have the greatest impact for employees. All other causes above are far behind in their cost to employers. The total annual cost of employee grief to U.S. employers was $75 billion in 2003, and death of a loved one accounted for $37.6 billion alone. It is more than double the cost of all the other causes of grief combined.
Docuvital took it one step further and adjusted the costs to 2017 dollars, estimating that the death of a loved one costs employers between $75 to $100 billion annually. The costs of grief are often hidden under the other statistics. The Council on Alcoholism estimates that alcohol abuse contributes annual costs to industry in excess of $276 billion, but fails to mention that the majority of alcohol relapses occur as the direct result of the death of a loved one, a divorce or romantic break-up. With alcohol abuse in the equation, the cost of losing a loved one exceeds $100 billion per year.
The study also indicated that the effects of the grief are even much greater among employees with a physical job. Ninety percent of those in physical jobs indicated a much higher incidence of physical injuries due to reduced concentration in the weeks or months following the grief incident. Ninety-one percent of those with injuries indicated that the accident or injury could have been avoided if they were better able to concentrate. This translates into more workplace injuries and thus higher time lost and workers’ compensation premiums and settlements, negatively impacting the company’s bottom line and the employees physical abilities.
Grief can manifest itself as absenteeism, conflict, decreased productivity, lack of creativity and problem solving, emotional outbursts, memory loss, lack of concentration, unpredictable mood swings and behavioral changes and reduced morale and motivation. The entire range of human emotion is the norm. Each person may exhibit different behaviors, as they have had a unique relationship with the person that has died or the situation that has occurred. However, it is still grief.
We most often think of grief in association with the death or loss of a loved one, but workplace changes, layoffs, closures, and job insecurity are also contributors to loss. Natural disasters, drought, flooding and forest fires can also create a sense of anxiety and loss. In smaller communities, especially those with an energy, agricultural or tourism-based economic systems, this type of grief can wreak havoc on the emotional and mental health of the people within the community. In small, close-knit groups, the impacts of grief and loss are compounded by the fact that the loss is experienced by the entire community. The Grief Index Study focused on larger employers and companies, but the cost to small companies and the self-employed is just as significant. It may even be exacerbated, due to the connected nature of the community. If you are not directly impacted, you are still susceptible to a secondary impact. The loss has occurred in the life of someone you are related to or live next to and sometimes both.
To a great degree the costs of grief are unnecessary and avoidable. They can be reduced through a heightened awareness and some simple minor changes communication. Reducing the financial impact of grief for businesses can be accomplished without great expense. Here are a few ideas…
Provide employers and employees with tools to plan ahead so that they can deal with their grief more effectively.
Know your resources. Taking the time to provide a list of resources to someone who is in grief is a great idea. This list should include but not be limited to company provided resources as well as community based resources, grief recovery groups, mortuaries, religious organizations and mental health providers.
Provide flexible schedules when possible so workers can utilize support resources.
Listen patiently to those around you. Allowing others to share their feelings can help grieving people shed the burden of pain. Acknowledging their suffering and offering support in time of need can make a big difference. You cannot rewind the clock or fix what has occurred but we can listen to their story and feel their pain.
Strive to be empathetic. People who are in grief may need to cry. They have gone through something that is difficult, so be prepared to sit down with them and lend a tissue.
Reach out and stay in touch. Whether you are a friend, a colleague or a neighbor, a quick note, message, email or phone call can prevent someone who is grieving from feeling all alone.
Even in business, the power of love, relationships, and feelings cannot be denied and, unfortunately, life is full of uncertainties. Grief is a natural human behavior and measures should be taken to make the process easier for every employee. Whether you are an owner, self-employed, CEO or a gatekeeper, everyone is equal when it comes to the heartache. Assuring that organizational policies and practices are rational, reasonable and equal for everyone while being aware and proactive will serve you well and help you manage the costs of grief.

Teresia Rose-Reed is a certified grief recovery specialist.