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Institute: Grief costs companies billions

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The death of a loved one can hit a family hard. It can do the same to a business. The Nov. 21 death of Jim L. Morris of American Detection Specialists Inc. was a major blow to the company’s 10 employees, including his son and finance director, Bryan Morris.

While the company doesn’t have specific plans in place to handle grief in the workplace, it is something the staff addresses as needed.

“We’ve all been together here for so long, we just take a few minutes when we need it,” Morris said.

He said the drive to meet client needs has helped employees of the security systems company stay focused.

“We understand that what we do is important, and it makes a critical difference in someone’s life,” he said. “I’m quite sure that it helps doing something that lives depend on.”

But loss of productivity from grief is something businesses take seriously. The Grief Institute estimates that grief recovery costs U.S. businesses $75 billion a year in reduced productivity. About half of the cost is attributed to the death of a loved one, and another $7 billion is connected to dealing with the death of an acquaintance.

Ozarks Coca-Cola/Dr Pepper Bottling Co. President John Schaefer said he used to be uncomfortable when employees became emotional around him, but as a leader of more than 300 employees, there are times when staff members must deal with the loss of loved ones. Through years of serving on the board of Lost and Found Grief Center and on-the-job experience, Schaefer’s learned it’s OK to let an employee cry.

“I learned pretty quickly to keep a box of tissues at my desk,” he said. “I learned to let them go through it.”

Schaefer said he always directs employees dealing with loss to Lost and Found.

Lost and Found has primarily focused on grieving children in the past, but the nonprofit has more recently reached out to local businesses to lend support.

Karen Scott, the center’s executive director, said officials had the idea several years ago but decided to wait as the economy struggled. However, as they continued to hear about concerns in the workplace for grieving families, they decided it was time to act.

“We’ve heard about people who have been supported, and we’ve heard some horror stories,” Scott said. “When people feel supported by their employer, they’re loyal forever. But they become angry when they’re not supported or employers don’t understand.”

Lost and Found teaches company officials how to deal with grieving employees, and offers on-site support when possible, Scott said. For instance, staff members might stress the need to have a succession plan in place or explain how to talk to a grieving employee.

“We are in a society that doesn’t deal well with grief,” Scott said. “They recognize that this thing is huge, but they don’t know what to do. They think, ‘How am I going to get these people back on track? How do we move forward from this?’”

Some large companies have elaborate grief-response programs, but how the situation is handled on a local level can make a big difference.

Laura Getty, director of human resources for John Deere Reman in Springfield, said the global company has a “very robust” program to help grieving employees, which includes a free 24-7 counseling service.

But a call from Scott prompted Getty to organize a personal touch for two young daughters of an employee who died recently.

Getty e-mailed employees to see if they had any special memories of their co-worker then she collected the responses and put them into bound books for the girls.

“Several people e-mailed me,” Getty said. “And most of them said things like regardless of how much work he did, he talked about how much love he had for his family, how there was nothing more important than his girls.”

Getty said the company also has a generous bereavement policy, and managers work with employees who need additional time off.

“We don’t make them come back to work if they’re not ready,” she said.

Scott said bereavement policies often aren’t sufficient for employees who have suffered major losses.

“Bereavement leave is typically three days,” she said. “That’s not time to plan and attend a funeral.”

In addition, she said piles of insurance paperwork require more leave, whether it’s paid or unpaid. And even when those employees return to work, the process continues.

She said some people see the return to work as a relief, but others need time to get back to their normal levels of productivity.

“If you have a trained employee who has been functioning well, you want to do everything you can to keep that employee,” Scott said. “And they have to understand they may not be working at full speed for a time.”

Schaefer said he’s seen employees take more than a year to recover from a serious loss. Whether grief support is from an outside support group or simply a conversation in the office, he said employees respond positively when the company reaches out.

“Making people cry is OK,” Schaefer said. “I very frequently get a ‘Thank you for asking,’ even if I get tears.”[[In-content Ad]]

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