It’s an unfortunate inevitability that loss and the grief, will affect every one of us at some point. And whilst it might not seem the most cheery subject to bring up on a wet November morning, there’s a) never a right time to bring it up and b) perhaps one to store away in the files until you might want to re-visit.
While the death of a loved one is often the cause of grief, it’s important to remember that grieving is not ‘one size fits all’. Studies have found that all kinds of life-changing events can cause feelings of grief. These can include the end of a friendship, the loss of a job, the loss of a pet or a decline in health. Likewise, many different factors affect how we grieve and why, including the support we receive.
And that goes for the support of colleagues and employers as well as friends and family.
As a business leader, the process of supporting employees through grief can be one of the most difficult and delicate tasks you’ll face. This is why it helps to have a more comprehensive understanding of what employees value most when grieving in order to formulate how you would provide support in such an event.
Keep reading for some key strategies on how to support employees through grief.
Look Beyond the Legal Requirements
Here in the UK, there are certain legal requirements for employers to follow when supporting employees through grief, but only for bereavement.
Legally, employers must grant two weeks’ bereavement leave to employees following the death of a child under 18 years old and for dependents (such as a parent or partner) you must grant a ‘reasonable’ amount of bereavement leave. Given that in most cases, there is no legal right to any paid time off for bereavement, it falls to you as employer to determine what you feel is ‘right’.
As a compassionate and emotionally intelligent leader, you can commit to doing more than the bare minimum, something which will be welcomed by any of your team experiencing such loss, as well as other team members who are aware.
Instead of letting these limited and vague legal requirements guide you, think about the support you would want to receive following a loss. This isn’t always financial and could be in the form of a reduced workload, greater schedule flexibility, or emotional support. Factors such as the size of your company may limit the leave and benefits you can provide. But there shouldn’t be a limit on the patience and understanding your company offers to grieving employees.
Formalise Your Procedures for Supporting Employees Through Grief
Whatever decisions you make, we recommend creating a set of formal guidelines detailing how you and your company will support employees through grief. Keep some level of flexibility in it (I know of one business I worked with who spelt out the number of days paid leave provided upon the death of a very specific list of different relatives which felt a tad too prescriptive) however doing so allows you to take a proactive and considered stance, rather than rushing to react to situations as and when they arise and allow your managers and team members to review rather than just try and ‘fill in the blanks’.
Creating a framework for supporting grief encourages an environment of awareness and acceptance around the subject. You might also consider some kind of sensitivity training for your employees about the effects of grief and how best to support a grieving colleague.
And for employees who need support through grief, knowing that there is a policy already in place shows that you understand the complexities of loss and grief and are willing to honour that through formal procedures and guidelines. Requesting that support is then less likely to make them feel as though they’re ‘asking for a favour’ rather than getting the support they’re entitled to.
Following a significant loss, paid time off can be beneficial as it gives your employees the time and space they need to grieve in private. In cases of bereavement and certain traumatic life events such as divorce or loss of a home, they may also need to use this time for attending the funeral or making arrangements. Knowing that they won’t lose out financially also avoids adding to their stress and forcing them to come back before they’re ready.
Consider Non-Financial Support
But financial help isn’t the only way to support employees through grief. You should also consider how you can help by offering emotional support.
Loss and grief are sensitive topics that call for a delicate touch from the moment your employee makes you aware of the situation. Beyond offering your condolences and reiterating the leave they’re entitled to, ensure that they feel valued and supported as a person as well as an employee.
Help you can offer include regular check-ins, an open-door policy, and colleague support networks.
One of the best ways to support your employees through grief is by being patient and listening to what they need. Some people may want to return to work to keep themselves busy. But for those who need more time, you might consider offering reduced hours or more flexible schedules. Easing workloads and adjusting expectations can give your employee space to heal following a loss.
Although this can seem risky when running a business, planned absence is always preferable to unplanned absence. As well as supporting your employee’s healing process and fostering loyalty, addressing the issue head-on allows you to plan effectively to ensure the work still gets done.
Depending on your business environment and resources, you might consider offering a transition period back to a normal routine. This period could involve working from home more often or a lighter workload. You may also need to help them avoid situations, tasks, or environments that remind them of their grief.
Use External Sources if Needed
Remember, as well-meaning as your intentions are, you may not always have the necessary training and tools to support a grieving employee in-house.
Mental health issues such as anxiety and depression can arise or worsen following a significant loss. If you notice worrying signs or become concerned that your employee isn’t coping well, don’t hesitate to take advantage of outside resources such as Cruse Bereavement Support or these useful contacts supplied by Mind.
Also, if your workplace offers an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that includes access to a grief counsellor, you should ask employees if they’d like you to put them in touch.
Devising Your Strategy to Support Employees Through Grief
Knowing how to support employees through grief can be difficult. Not least because grief is a very individual experience that often defies prediction or definition.
But as an employer, by defining and formalising your company’s grief support framework now, you’ll be well prepared to provide the right kind of support for your employees when they most need it.
For more information on tools and techniques to support and empower your employees, feel free to contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org or call on 0203 627 7048.