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Grief - the hidden billion-dollar workplace cost

Grief - the hidden billion-dollar workplace cost

New Zealand companies are losing billions of dollars a year to grief, a cost that few recognise, says Bice Awan, the Chief Executive of skylight.

Skylight is dedicated to helping children, young people and their families cope with the impact of grief and loss.

A speaker at the ACC-hosted Bold Perspectives rehabilitation and injury prevention conference in Auckland, Ms Awan said it was imperative companies see the link between diminished productivity and employees’ issues.

Based on US studies, the impact of grief on New Zealand businesses could be as high as $9.5 billion a year.

“When we break a leg we get a few weeks off and our workmates scribble on the cast. But when our hearts are broken we get three days’ bereavement leave and no one wants to talk about it,” Ms Awan said.

Measures to help staff could have a dramatic effect on an organisation’s bottom line.

Ms Awan said it's a myth to think that our work and home lives are separate and that when we arrive at work we enter a world completely detached from the rest of our everyday lives.

“It’s just not so. Ignoring the impact of change, loss and grief on workers’ lives can cost companies dearly.

“For example, lapses in concentration as a result of grief can make staff more accident prone and this is why grief is considered to be the underlying cause of billions of dollars of costs to both large and small companies.”

“One study found 60 per cent of executives admitted that their decision-making after a personal loss had a direct negative financial effect on the company and that around 90 per cent of people performing physical jobs were found to have a much higher incidence of injury due to reduced concentration.”

Companies need to consider a variety of strategies to support staff and reduce costs, recognising that people have lives outside work.

Options could include reorganising workloads and special leave for grieving staff, awareness and training courses for supervisors and managers, targeted employee assistance programmes and in-house programmes on anger management, stress reduction and alcohol abuse.

“These programmes cost little in the context of returns in the long term through reduced costs and improved productivity,” Ms Awan said.

The Bold Perspectives conference runs from March 21-23 and more than 30 speakers from around New Zealand and overseas are addressing questions as varied as the cost of road accidents, employee involvement in safety practices, trauma recovery and preventing falls among the elderly.

Ms Awan has more than 30 years’ experience in the health and disability sectors in the UK, Canada and New Zealand.

Richard Braddell

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