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Touched by Grief

I recently received a text message with the news of an acquaintance, who had passed away through contracting Coronovirus. The reality and enormity of the current crisis means a lot of people will unfortunately find themselves in a similar situation.

Given our expertise in the field of human behaviour and pattern recognition, we have put together some thoughts about grief from a slightly different perspective. One that is applicable to the workplace.

Here are some of the questions that may already be running through your mind… What is it that makes some people cope with loss better than others? As an employer, what can I expect and how can I help? What should I say and what should I do?

What is grief?

The most basic definition of grief is that it is the normal and natural emotional reaction to loss or change of any kind. Grief is neither a pathological condition nor a personality disorder. It is the conflicting feelings caused by the ending or change in a familiar pattern of behaviour.

It is widely known there are seven stages of grief – shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance and hope. Although the seven have been identified, these stages can present themselves in varying degrees and order, depending upon our personality traits.

Following the loss of a loved one, people’s lives, businesses, social interactions and values change. Some permanently, some temporarily. We can predict these changes and the appropriate support needed to help those affected get through this.

Why some people cope better than others

Resilience can be a useful indicator of someone’s bounce-back ability and seems to explain why particular individuals are able to take things in their stride. One of the first things to be impacted by a traumatic event is a person’s ability to focus or settle to anything. Very goal-oriented, determined characters can suddenly lose interest in all the things that used to be important to them. Their values and beliefs, which were once key to their decision-making ability, have encountered a seismic shift.

Sooner or later, human beings have a need to process the information they have received. (They try to make sense of the situation, as they perceive it.) The best way to describe this process is by imagining you are taking the memory of an event from one part of your brain and transferring it into another. Unfortunately, the new part of your brain has a small letterbox; you can only post things through bit by bit.

As an employer, what can I expect?

Some people are totally consumed by their grief and never really come back to their former glory. Others seem to deal with things very quickly, only to face a setback when they least expect it. (An anniversary, a song or an item that has a strong association with the person who perished is often the trigger). It can take up to six months for a traumatic event (such as bereavement) to show up in someone’s profile. It is likely to take a similar length of time, at the very least, for them to get back to their new normal. 

An individual’s sociability score can tell us whether the affected person will feel the need to talk; or whether they require solitude, in order to come to terms with their loss. Expecting someone to “just get over it” is harsh and inappropriate (no matter how this phrase is dressed up.) The feeling of loss takes many forms and requires careful handling, perhaps professional help in some circumstances. 

How can I help?

Loss is part of life and as such you can’t pre-handle it. What you can do, however, is raise someone’s self-esteem, so they weather the situation a little bit easier when it does hit them.  

As a business leader, we encourage you to tune into people’s thinking and be willing to share your own thoughts and feelings. However, it can be difficult knowing what to say in these circumstances. We worry the wrong tone or response might be quite damaging, but the reverse is usually true. This delicate challenge can engender tremendous loyalty in your staff (or encourage them to leave at the first available opportunity). 

When looking at a person’s profile, we often refer to their integrating point. It is what they have a natural affinity for. They normally do their particular ‘thing’ to a very high standard, usually for hours on end. This activity can be the “kick-start” for their recovery, because it requires very little effort on their part. It is important to note that a person who is inching their way back to normality doesn’t need unnecessary pressure.

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