Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2011

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Communication

First Advisor

Stanley Deetz

Second Advisor

Timothy Kuhn

Third Advisor

Bryan Taylor

Abstract

Work has become an increasingly important element in our modern lives. Scholars have argued that, in many ways, work is intertwined with nearly every aspect of our lives shaping how we see ourselves and the world (Ciulla, 2000; Deetz, 1992; Giddens, 1991). Though often overlooked, work has become relevant not only to how we live but to how we make sense of death and experience loss. Grief is a fundamentally social experience produced through interactions with our social world and the discourses that shape our reality. This research explored the role of work in bereaved individuals' experiences with grief. Four questions were the focus of my analysis: 1. How do workers describe their experience with bereavement in relation to their work? 2. How do people describe workplace interactions after the death of their loved one? 3. How do bereaved workers talk about the relationships between professional identity and their emotional experience? 4. How do workers talk about their experience with bereavement leave policy? To investigate these questions and learn more about the phenomenon in general, I conducted qualitative interviews with individuals who had taken bereavement leave following the death of a loved one. Participants represented a range of organizations and industries and had diverse conditions around the loss of their loved one. What emerged was a picture of grief shaped by practical, relational, occupational, and affective concerns. The narratives in this study revealed insights about the experiences of bereaved workers. First, practicality and coping with the logistics of loss emerged as central to experiences of bereavement. In addition, it appeared that work may play an important role in coping, and that support from the organization and co-workers can be meaningful. Finally, complexities in participants' descriptions of their reactions to formal bereavement policy suggested possibilities for improving organizational support for bereaved workers.

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