Are you keeping your bereavement a secret from your employer?

This recent UK article caught my attention (it’s a good read). It talks about the fear that disabled and chronically ill workers face if they were to reveal their conditions to their employer. Penalties and job loss being two major ones. It also questions whether the pandemic has helped to change our mindset about this or whether our biases are too entrenched to implement changes that would better support the vulnerable. Which got me thinking. This is exactly the same for the bereaved. Are you keeping symptoms of your bereavement a secret from your employer to protect your job?

There isn’t much sympathy in the corporate world

Whatever pain we are in and no matter where it stems from, there isn’t much sympathy in the corporate world for those who can’t maintain a certain level of stamina and bravado about who they are and what they can do. And this may not matter to some people in some jobs. This is more about the expectation that those at the top have for their employees to produce. Without any sensitivity for or understanding of anything that may disrupt their view of success that falls within a certain parameter.

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We judge ourselves harshly

And it isn’t even just that. We judge ourselves harshly by who we think we should be and what we believe we should be capable of contributing to any area of our life. Not least, the workplace. While the pandemic put everyone on a level playing field for a time, the reality is you do miss out on certain things when you are forced into any workplace accommodation that is not across the board for all staff. Whether this matters or not is a case of how much you want to be involved with the movers and the shakers and considered for promotion.

4-day workweek offers some relief

I’m personally thrilled to see some companies taking the leap to a 4-day workweek (Iceland and it’s being tested in certain companies in the US and most recently the UK’s top bank). Which, in my view would help to reduce stress and offers employees some relief. However, it’s still an anomaly for most. While I’m no authority on workplace policies, I can speak about my experience to implement work accommodations over several years in my former job to try and improve my health and stamina (less days, work at home). All of which ultimately led me to go on a workplace disability anyway.

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Mental and emotional impairments finally took their toll

What was interesting about this process was that because I had no diagnosis for what was going on with my health for years, it was extremely challenging for me to figure out what kind of accommodations I needed to manage my deteriorating health. I had a stressful job, long commute and was desperate to find some respite and get better.

I was battling chronic illnesses and fatigue, neither of which were going away despite how many accommodations I arranged. But it was the culmination of my mental and emotional impairments that finally took its toll on me. Up to that point, I was trying to continuously demonstrate to myself and my management that I could perform at a level far beyond what I was really capable of doing. The disability was the only thing that stopped me in my tracks.

Part of this was because of the misconception on the part of both my employer and me about what I could and should be doing without a clear understanding of the health issues. In fact, I didn’t understand at all what I really needed until well after I retired from the job and had the time and space to start piecing myself back together again.

What we suffer in our bereavement compares to other disabilities

What we suffer in our bereavement certainly compares to other more readily diagnosed disabilities. But because we aren’t used to associating them with grief, they mostly go undiagnosed, or are rationalized as something else by the one who is suffering. It took me years to try and find some help and when I tried to explain to medical professionals what was wrong with me, I couldn’t. Neither could they. It was an astute doctor who eventually figured out what was wrong (PTSD), which set me on my path to recovery.

The stigma I feared being seen by others as less than capable and vulnerable in my suffering kept me from looking within and finding the courage to pay attention to my health and what I needed to manage. Something I am proud to do today.

It is empowering to claim who we are in our vulnerabilities

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It is empowering and freeing to claim who we are in our vulnerabilities and the broken pieces that make up our whole. I encourage anyone who is living a life that’s not truly theirs to find the courage to claim who they are and incorporate into their life everything they do need to support them in their healing.

I have zero tolerance today for insensitivities to anyone’s vulnerabilities. Whether this is coming from corporate management or on a personal level, it is all about how we treat each other. I can’t say this enough. We are ALL vulnerable to something bad happening that can change the entire course of our life. Our family dynamic. Our health. Smash our dreams and force us to live in a way we never thought possible.

How can we change?

Developing an awareness, being sensitive to the plight of others, and acknowledging our own weaknesses and imperfections can go a long way to helping us development the generosity, kindness and acceptance we need to feel for each other.

Changing work policies, strategizing workarounds for those in need (we aren’t going to always stay down), and even having a sense of humour about what we are going through can all help to eliminate stigma. It can help those who of us who can’t run quite as fast as the next person (who simply hasn’t tripped yet) feel like they’re in this game called life. Know your rights. Claim them.



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