Five steps to support employees through bereavement

man wiping away tear, grief, bereavement

When someone dies, most people don’t know what to say, some may even end up saying the wrong thing or perhaps find it too uncomfortable to say anything at all.

All this is unhelpful to a griever, who may not even know what they need. 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?

Here are five steps to support employees through a bereavement

Be in front and be prepared

Have a bereavement support policy in place which addresses legal requirements and your individual company guidance. It may help to offer employees the opportunity to have a say in the creation of the policy. Have regular discussions about the policy and ensure everyone is aware of it, so that if an employee experiences a bereavement, they are already aware of the expectation both ways and this helps tremendously by removing any unnecessary worry or misinterpretation at a time when the employee is pre-occupied with their loss. Also establish how they would like to keep in touch with you during the time of absence and how they would like you to inform others in the workplace about the bereavement.

Have a return to work policy

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 doesn’t end once the funeral has taken place, it is something we adjust to and carry with us always. Upon returning to work, let your employee know that they can talk to you about the feelings around their loss, if they would like to. Don’t take it personally if they say no – they may already have a good emotional network out of the workplace – but let them know you are there for them anyway.

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.

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 everyone (or most people) returns back to their own lives leaving the griever carrying their loss on their own and this can create a sense of feeling isolated from the people around them. Due to the nature of our work environments, the workplace can be one of the first places that a 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 in your life.

Be an open door

Be a shoulder. Just be there. Sometimes a griever needs to talk to someone who isn’t related or emotionally involved and they may choose you as their employer or HR Manager etc. When a bereaved employee chooses to talk to you about how they feel, the best thing you can do is LISTEN. When someone is talking about how they feel, they aren’t looking for endorsement or even advice. They are making a statement. They are having a one-way conversation and you are the ears they have chosen to trust. Healing takes so many forms, and sometimes just being with someone who will listen without comparison or comment and who just accepts your words, can be the hugest dose of heart medicine.

Watch out for signs that they may be struggling

Their time keeping may become poor, loss of care in personal appearance, over/under-eating, signs of alcohol/substance abuse, isolating themselves from the people they would normally interact with. If you feel that an employee is struggling, be a safe place for them to talk without judgement or criticism. Work with them to help them through it. Offer what help you can and  if you feel it necessary recommend a bereavement specialist or some counselling.

Lianna ChampAbout the author

Lianna Champ has over 40 years’ experience in grief and bereavement counselling and is author of practical guide, How to Grieve Like A Champ


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