Gemma Hart discusses her top five tips for communicating with grieving employees in a way that helps support and comfort them during a difficult time.
Losing a loved one is extremely difficult, with many people experiencing feelings of anger, bewilderment or shock as they process their loss. Grief can impact people emotionally, physically, and even psychologically, which will often impact their ability to work.
Provide extended paid time off
Grieving employees don’t want the stress or worry of returning to work too soon. Whether they have experienced the death of a loved one, the loss of a child, or the sudden death of a friend, they should be provided with paid time off. And this time should extend into long-term time off if deemed suitable.
Sometimes your employee could be the partner or the spouse of a victim. For example, a father could also have a similar psychological struggle due to negligent medical treatment. During childbirth, if the child or mother suffers an injury in the course of delivery, and the father is traumatised psychologically by witnessing this while present at the delivery, that’s a classic nervous shock scenario.
Most employers offer compassionate, or bereavement leave to employees after the death of a family member. However, some go a step further by agreeing to several months of leave or longer for those particularly in need of it.
For many, this extended period of leave can provide the time and stability they need to process their grief and get the support they need from their GP or a counsellor to work through their feelings.
As the employer, making this decision can be a difficult one. Therefore, take the time to talk to your employee and ask how you can help.
Communicate in a calm and empathetic manner
When an employee tells you about the death of a loved one, it is essential you communicate your condolences in a calm and empathetic manner. While it may seem easier and less intrusive to stay out of the situation, research has found that 56% of people would consider leaving their job if their employer didn’t provide the support they needed during a period of grief.
Your company environment should support employees’ emotions, whatever kind of grief they are experiencing.
Your first conversation with a grieving employee will set the tone for the rest of your communications, so it’s important to remain calm and let your employee know they have your full support. A couple of good ways you can do this include:
- Offering your condolences
- Assuring them they can have paid time off if they want to
- Provide a space in the office where they can be alone to process their emotions when required
- Offer support through mental health services
Support employees to feel emotions
One of the most detrimental things a grieving person can do is squash down their feelings and carry on as if nothing has happened. While this might be a coping mechanism for some, it is important to create a company culture that does not shy away from emotions.
You will have employees that cry during work hours, become emotionally unavailable, or are particularly irritable. Do your best to affirm these feelings and provide space for employees if they are having a rough day.
When people are told they need to pull themselves together or hold in feelings of grief, it can be detrimental. Your company environment should support employees’ emotions, whatever kind of grief they are experiencing.
Offer support through mental health services
Offering mental health services through your workplace is important for all employees, not just those who have experienced a loss.
However, counselling and other mental health services often become lifelines for grieving employees, especially for those processing complicated grief.
By offering your support through the provision of mental health services, you will be supporting both your employee’s wellness and that of their wider family. The more healthily your employee can work through their grief, the better their mental health will be as a result.
Provide ongoing support
Remain sensitive to the fact that employees may suffer tremendous grief long after returning to work.
Processing grief can take different amounts of time for everyone. For some, it could be a couple of months, while for others it can take several years. As a company, it is essential you provide ongoing support for your employees following a death.
Take the time to discuss what’s best for each individual’s needs and how you can continue providing mental health and practical support in the long term.
Provide flexible working, take bereavement into account when calculating sickness limits or low-performance standards. And most importantly, always stay in an open dialogue with employees so that you can be on the front foot to attend to their needs as required.
Being proactive and communicating with sensitivity and empathy, are excellent ways to support bereaving grieving employees.
Everyone reacts to grief differently, after all. But, by following the guidance above you will be able to communicate with your employee in a sensitive manner, ensuring their needs are met and they feel well-supported during this difficult time.