Employers: How to improve your bereavement support for employees
A significant number of hours of an employee’s life is spent in the workplace. Yet, all the while that business goals and demands need to be met, major life events continue to happen. Inevitably, this comprises of both the good and the bad – including death and bereavement.
As an employer, how you approach bereavement support for your employees is crucial. Our recent Grieving at Work study revealed that 24% of grieving employees wanted to leave their job specifically because they didn’t like how the bereavement had been handled. Factors such as a failure to be flexible and considerate can lead to increased absenteeism and workplace stress, reduced motivation and productivity, and ultimately a high staff turnover.
Whilst it can be complex for employers to manage, supporting your staff through this difficult time mainly relies on being compassionate and providing them with enough time and space to navigate their grief (which will vary from employee to employee). Read on for further advice on how to improve your bereavement support for employees.
The role of work as a coping mechanism
It is important to remember that your employees will be inherently different in how they cope with the death of a loved one. For some, throwing themselves back into work and having their colleagues around them is a welcome distraction and offers a valuable support network. Indeed, a work routine can provide some sense of normality and comfort in a time of extreme change and upset.
Be led by your employee - if they would prefer to return to work sooner than expected following the death of their loved one then try to refrain from forming any judgement about this. If this does occur, however, bear in mind that it’s unlikely your employee will be able to immediately perform their job at the same level they did previously. Concentration skills, self-esteem and decision making are just some things that are negatively impacted when a person is grieving. It might be beneficial for you to think about building a return to work roadmap for your employee so that expectations are set on both sides.
Alternatively, whilst going back to work after a bereavement may prove helpful for some people who are grieving, for others it is a completely unthinkable concept for the first few months. Either way, try to support your employees’ individual needs.
‘Check in’ on your employee
Grief can be incredibly isolating. In the immediate aftermath of a loved one’s death, people can often experience overwhelming support in the form of cards, phone calls and people being physically present. However, following the funeral, and as people return to their everyday life, the support shown to a grieving person can slowly wane. Sometimes a simple, ‘how are you today?’ can offer your employee the opportunity to offload or share any concerns they have.
If you find yourself feeling overly concerned about upsetting or offending your employee, try asking them directly whether they would prefer to talk about their loss or not. A good employer will recognise that this kind of communication and support isn’t simply offered to employees for the first few weeks, following their return to the workplace, but rather on an ongoing basis.
There’s no set timeline for grieving and there’s no manual on how you can expect your employees to behave. People will respond to grief in their own way. That said, there are several different models of grief, the most well known of which is the Kubler-Ross grief cycle, and it can prove beneficial to educate yourself on this.
This model believes that people will go through the following 5 stages of grief: 1) denial and isolation. 2) anger 3) bargaining 4) depression and 5) acceptance. However, these stages are not necessarily experienced by everyone nor are they experienced in the same order. Recognising this might help you to better understand your grieving employee. Here are some useful resources on the stages of grief:
Our Grieving at Work study revealed that only 22% of employees supporting a close relative through a life-threatening illness or injury were offered flexible hours by their employer. Be it short notice holiday, reduced hours or allowing staff to take a break from customer facing roles, demonstrating sensitivity to your employee’s situation will have positive implications for their loyalty to your company.
Sheryl Sandberg, COO at Facebook, has previously spoken about how necessary it is for employers to demonstrate this kind of flexibility. She claims that allowing employees more time to deal with their grief – by offering reduced hours or flexible schedules, can ultimately wind up costing organisations less (in terms of productivity) than if you were to encourage employees to return to work before they feel ready.
Provide staff with tools and resources
Equipping other employees with the skills and resources to help their grieving colleagues is key. Cruse bereavement care offer an excellent bereavement training session for HR teams and line managers. This entails helping managers navigate sensitive discussions with grieving employees, both in the immediate aftermath of bereavement and in the longer term.
Similarly, for further, practical advice on how to provide bereavement support to grieving employees, Acas have produced a helpful resource titled bereavement in the workplace – a good practice guide. You could always print this guide off and share it with colleagues and senior leaders, so they have something tangible to refer to when your workplace is affected by grief. Plus, this way, your workforce as a collective can support a colleague who is grieving and they will be secure in the knowledge that should they face a similar situation, you, their employer, are ready to support them through it.
Finally, ensure your grieving staff understand their legal entitlements relating to bereavement leave and that co-workers are aware of the findings of our Grieving at Work study.