Supporting Workers Through Grief

As employers, it is so important that we can rely on our employees and that means serving their needs just as much as they serve ours.

When someone is impacted by a death, most people don’t know the right thing to say, and as an employer you will be one of the first to be informed of the bereavement. Your support at this time is invaluable and can make a huge difference in the workplace. Employees are extended family, working with you to achieve a positive result for your business. Even though you pay them for the work they do, they will repay you for your understanding.

So as an employer, it is vital that we are aware of the importance of emotional support following a bereavement. A happy team is a productive team, and why shouldn’t our workplace be somewhere we can find solace and some good advice? Many charities have been helped by colleagues who raise funds following a bereavement, and a great sense of community can be created when we come together like this. It is hugely comforting.

Here are five steps to support employees through a bereavement.

Be in front and be prepared. Learn about grief support yourself so you feel comfortable supporting your employees when they need it. Have a bereavement support policy in place which addresses legal requirements and your individual company guidance. Let everyone have a say in the creation of the policy. Have regular discussions about the policy and ensure everyone is familiar with it so that they are already aware of the expectation both ways. This helps tremendously by removing any unnecessary worry or misinterpretation at a time when they are grieving and preoccupied with their loss.

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Have a return-to-work policy to help soften the re-introduction to the workplace which includes ongoing support. Arrange an initial first chat where the employee feels most comfortable — their home, the workplace, etc. — to discuss the most effective way to proceed. It is important to know that grief isn’t a clear cut process and is an incredibly personal experience based upon several factors. Some may need the familiarity of routine and want to return to their position in full force. Others may struggle to return to their usual way of working and may need a phased reintroduction to build up their hours. Grief takes away our concentration, and even the simplest of task can become challenging.

Grief doesn’t have an expiry date. When someone experiences a bereavement, they usually have lots of support in the first days, weeks and months following the loss. Then people return back to their own lives, leaving the griever carrying their loss on their own. This can create a sense of feeling isolated from the people around them. Due to the nature of our work environments, our workplace can be one of the first places that the bereaved employee can feel that their loss has been forgotten. Make a diary entry on the anniversary. Have everyone sign a card and put some flowers at their work station. There is nothing so beautiful as people remembering and showing how important that person was — and still is.

Be an open door. Sometimes a grieving employee needs to talk to someone who isn’t related or emotionally involved, and they may choose you as their employer or HR manager. When a bereaved employee chooses to talk to you about how they feel, the best thing you can do is LISTEN. Don’t try and fix them or change how they feel. Just accept what they say and feed back words to show that you have listened.

Watch out for signs that they may be struggling. Their time keeping may become poor, or there may be a loss of care in personal appearance, over/under-eating, signs of alcohol/substance abuse or isolation from the people they would normally interact with. Work with them to help them through it. Offer what help you can, and if you feel it necessary, recommend some professional bereavement counselling.

Lianna Champ

Lianna Champ
Lianna Champ has over 40 years' experience as a grief and funeral care specialist. She is the author of practical guide How to Grieve Like a Champ.

Lianna Champ

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