Helping Employees Avoid Burnout as They Deal with the Challenges of Loss

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Helping Employees Avoid Burnout as They Deal with the Challenges of Loss

Grief is one aspect of loss (and there happens to be quite a few different types of it). The grief is what can feel like the most intangible, uncontrollable and insurmountable aspect, which has the power to affect an employee physically, emotionally and cognitively all at once. If that wasn’t enough, loss often brings with it new financial, legal and family responsibilities that are a bit more tricky to work through “in your own time”.

It’s no surprise then that various pressures can pile up during periods of grieving, leaving even the most diligent and motivated worker in a state of overwhelm. Prolonged time spent in this state can lead to burnout, which first needs to be understood so that the most effective workplace strategies can be applied.

What is burnout?

Stress can usually be distinguished as being either ‘everyday’ or ‘chronic’, with the natural physiological and psychological stress responses to daily or regular life events generally being more manageable. The stress imposed becomes chronic when these responses persist over extended periods. The constant feeling of pressure and overwhelm can begin to manifest as noticeable changes in neurological and physical health that ultimately point to burnout.

In the workplace, burnout might take the form of:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or cynicism related to the job
  • A sense of ineffectiveness or lack of accomplishment
  • Difficulty planning of managing schedules
  • Absenteeism
  • Difficulty concentrating, impaired memory, confusion and “brain fog”
  • Anxiety and depression

Physical symptoms can also include:

  • Bodily aches and pains
  • Lowered immunity
  • Hypertension
  • Disordered eating
  • Digestive problems and metabolic syndrome
  • Irregular heartbeat, chest pains, heart disease or even heart attack.

Doing a double shift

Having to navigate feelings of loss as well as the financial and legal administration that follows in the wake of a loved one’s death can feel like a whole new nine-to-five for the bereaved. This is especially if the bereaved happens to have been nominated as Executor. The legal responsibility for resolving the estate’s affairs and guiding it through the probate process would fall upon this trusted person, making for an even higher workload. It’s usually no coincidence if the selected Executor happens to hold a leadership position in their regular workplace, making them a competent and reliable choice for the difficult and sensitive end-of-life function. 

More generally, international surveys have shown that bereaved families end up putting in over twenty hours a week for over a year to settle a loved one’s affairs. That’s like having a side hustle! For driven employees, the need to keep up with it all tends to exacerbate burnout symptoms. They may sacrifice sleeping hours to get tasks done, or suffer from feelings of guilt and inadequacy if they have to adjust work commitments or miss them entirely to stay on top of things. 

Avoiding burnout

There are a number of ways that organisations and employers can provide meaningful relief and support to employees who may be dealing with the challenges of loss. Here are some preventative measures that address employees’ responsibilities while also acknowledging the time and financial crunches they may be in.

1. More than just paid leave

Flexibility at work has become a prerequisite for many employees in all kinds of life circumstances. A smart and effective policy for managing working hours and approving work from home days is important to supplement the basic entitlements to paid time off. Other creative and thoughtful ways to inject additional flexibility may include offering information or subsidies on services which can save time and energy. Services such as house cleaners, child care, meal delivery services or estate and probate professionals.

2. Option of reduced schedules

The death of a loved one can be just as life-changing as a birth, and so may be treated as such when it comes to transitioning back to the office or simply providing space to manage changes. A reduced schedule can allow employees to take a step back from their duties without disconnecting entirely, and may even provide opportunities for other employees.

While ensuring burnout can be minimised in the long-term, this remedy also communicates to an employee that they are a valued member of the team and will be supported through a temporary lull in productivity.

3. Get grief literate in the workplace

We can all work on our emotional intelligence and empathy, and devising an anti-burnout plan for the workplace presents a perfect opportunity to do so. Providing grief training and education can help employees feel more confident and clear on how to collaborate with colleagues who may be going through it. At the same time, the grieving employee can feel supported by their grief literate colleagues, and may not need to expend as much energy in social situations with team members who would normally feel ill-equipped to approach sensitive interaction.  

Wrap up 

We are all dynamic beings, with a multitude of ‘jobs’ to take on at different stages of life. The personal realities of loss are also very different for everyone. Employees are able to establish boundaries and prioritise self-care in order to help themselves avoid burnout, but life is always easier when you feel supported at work. Death can be easier, too, with a bit of help from us here at Willed.

If you found this helpful, you may benefit from reading our guide on How to Support a Grieving Employee.

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