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Workplace Grief

"Work As a Refuge"

A Study from 1988.




This study examines the process of bereavement and the support given to a parent at the workplace after the sudden and unexpected death of his child at the workplace. A series of questions are asked concerning organizational attitudes and policies regarding the bereaved employee.

This is a new area of psychological investigation. Therefore, a sufficiently developed body of literature does not exist for there to be specific null hypotheses. The most appropriate research strategy, therefore, seems to be of a broader, more exploratory nature. The present preliminary investigation is a descriptive study designed to develop general statements which may be used subsequently to generate hypotheses and/or identify critical variables for further research.

Theories concerning the impact of bereavement after the sudden death of a child are reviewed. While these theories provide useful information, they do not address the specifics of the impact of the sudden death of a child on a working bereaved parent. Organizational literature is also reviewed and, while it provides good background information, it does not adequately address the central issues of the study.

Design of the Study

The first part of the project involves six subjects. Each subject is a newly bereaved parent employed full-time. Their children, each of whom had died suddenly and unexpectedly, were between infancy and nineteen years of age and living at home at the time of their deaths. For the purpose of this study, sudden and unanticipated death means that there was no long-term illness preceding the death. Though suicide may be premeditated, in the case of one of the mothers studied, she had no serious indication of her child's intent. Ethnic, marital and socio-economic status played no part in subject selection. Criteria for the choice of subjects included gaining permission from them to interview their co-workers, (e.g., supervisors, managers, and others working closely with them) regarding their attitudes toward the bereaved employee.

Subjects for the second part of the study were recruited from the Employee Assistance Programs of four multi-national corporations located in the San Francisco Bay Area. These corporations included a merchandising company with a world-wide population of 32,000 employees, a public services company with a world-wide population of 300,000 employees, a transportation company with a world-wide population of 60,000 employees, and an energy company with a world-wide population of 42,000 employees. None of the bereaved subjects were members of any of these four organizations. Attitudes of the organizations regarding a bereaved employee were examined through interviews with Employee Assistance counselors from these organizations.

The bereaved parent subjects were interviewed at three separate times during the study. The first interview was conducted at one month following the death of the child while presumedly the parents were still in a state of shock. The second interview was conducted at three months and the last interview at six months. Each interview was taped and approximately one hour in length. Each subject was treated as an in-depth case study.

The personal work-setting of the bereaved employee was examined once and interviews were conducted. These interviews took place one month after the death of the child and were of approximately one-half hour to forty- five minutes in duration for each supervisor and co- worker interviewed.

One interview of one to two hours in length was conducted with the Employee Assistance department of each of the four multi-national corporations. These interviews were also audio-taped. The results of the completed study were given to each of these corporations.

Description of Research

This work is a qualitative study based on personal interviews and observations of the subjects. Before each interview, the purpose of the research, the interview process, and the safeguards to maintain confidentiality were explained to each subject. Signed permission was given by each subject prior to interviews.

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