When an employee experiences a major life event, there are concrete ways that this milestone is recognized as a transformative moment.
After a wedding, it’s expected that they will take off work for a long honeymoon. After a baby is born, parents recover from childbirth and bond with a new member of the family during several weeks—and in some cases, months—of parental leave.
After the passing of a loved one, however, employees typically return to the office after 1 to 5 days of bereavement leave, on average.
While there are funeral and mourning traditions in every culture, the profound changes a person goes through during bereavement are often underestimated and minimized—particularly for an employee who is returning to the office.
But in many ways recovering from the loss of a loved one is similar to other huge life events like having a child, Empathy’s Cost of Dying Report shows.
You don’t have to be a parent to know that feeding schedules and crying newborns keep new parents awake around the clock—the frazzled new mom or new dad is a common character in movies, on TV, and in books.
Sleepless nights in bereavement are discussed less in our culture, but many people experience them after a loss.
For the Cost of Dying Report, Empathy surveyed 1,485 Americans who experienced a recent loss and found that 76% of respondents suffered from a change in their sleep patterns. Of that group, half said it lasted for a few months or more.
At work, this can lead to issues with focus, productivity, and even mood regulation—all issues that the Cost of Dying respondents described as challenges they faced in the aftermath of loss.
While weight changes are understandably much more associated with pregnancy and childbirth, the shock of grief and loss can also lead to changes in appetite.
In fact, 33% of bereaved people said they experienced weight gain or loss that lasted more than a few months, the Cost of Dying Report shows.
More than 75% of respondents suffered from a change in their sleep patterns. Of that group, half said it lasted a few months or more.
The findings also reveal gender differences within this experience, with more women than men reporting that this was an issue that lasted well over a year: 14% of women vs. 7% of men said their weight loss or gain continued for this extended period.
Anxiety, stress, and cognitive issues
As with the sleep-deprived new mom or dad, there is wide recognition of and support for the nervous parent trying to protect their newborn in a chaotic world.
Many parents feel the weight of their new responsibilities, and that translates into stress and anxiety—something bereaved people feel intensely as well.
After the passing of a loved one, 83% experienced anxiety, with 56% of that group suffering from it for a few months or more, the Cost of Dying Report showed.
For many of the full-time and part-time workers surveyed, stress was a major factor affecting their work performance: 28% reported memory issues or an inability to concentrate that lasted for several months.
The Cost of Dying Report’s major findings indicate that the bereavement period is much more than a time of sadness.
Another issue survey respondents dealt with was confusion. Overall, 73% reported this cognitive challenge, with 38% of that group saying it lasted for a few months or more.
The Cost of Dying Report’s major findings indicate that the bereavement period is much more than a time of sadness. Indeed, grief experts describe the experience as a learning process—a realignment with significant mental, physical, and emotional dimensions.
Employees who have the expectation that they’ll be “back to normal” after three days off—and companies who share that view—are operating under false assumptions. And unfortunately, it sets everyone up for disappointment.
If the passing of a loved one is seen as the major life event that it is, however, companies can navigate this crucial time in a way that sets the employee and their managers up for success.
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