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Five ways to support bereaved employees

Death is something most of us avoid thinking about, but as an employer it is vital to consider how you would support bereaved employees.

Sometimes expected, sometimes sudden, every individual’s relationship with bereavement is different. One area where the difference is most notable could be age. People ages 65 and over are most likely to be bereaved.

You can find out more about how to manage a multigenerational workforce and their wellbeing needs by downloading our free employer’s guide today.

If your workplace employs Baby Boomers (55-72), or Silent Generation (73+), it could be important to consider how to support an individual coping with multiple bereavements. On the other hand, if a younger person in your workplace has been bereaved, remember that this may be their first experience of loss and they may require different support.

1. Get to grips with the grieving process

Everyone at the company – but particularly line managers and HR professionals – should learn about the grieving process. If they haven’t had any, consider offering training to these employee groups. The Five Stages of Grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) is a useful framework to reference. It’s worth noting that the way in which people grieve is entirely individual and it is not a linear process.  Instead of a neat set of stages which the bereaved move through in an orderly fashion, grieving is much more like a rollercoaster. 

Grief can also cause people to act differently than they typically would. For example, a usually gregarious employee may avoid social situations and a normally analytical employee could start acting irrationally. This is quite common and it’s important that they are supported throughout their grieving process without judgement.

Find out how our business health and wellbeing services could support both your business and employees here.

2. Understand the role of work as a coping mechanism

As a caring employer, your first reaction to hearing of an employee’s bereavement might be to encourage them to take as much time off as is necessary. While in many cases this is very appropriate, it’s also worth understanding the important role work can play in a recently bereaved person’s life. In most cases, the loss of a loved one sends the bereaved person’s life into a state of chaotic disarray. In this context, everyday routines – such as work - can become a much-needed anchor.

That said, it’s important employers understand that while a recently bereaved employee may want to come into work, and indeed it might help them, it does not mean that they are necessarily capable of working at their usual capacity. They might make mistakes they wouldn’t have otherwise, for example. You may want to help them reduce their workload and it would be advisable that you lower your expectations while they go through the grieving process.

3. Be flexible

It goes without saying that while some bereaved employees will want to get back to work as soon as possible, others will not. Make sure you offer flexible bereavement policies which will enable your employees to take the time they need away from work. If possible, allow them to choose the date they come back and, when they do decide to return to work, consider implementing a phased return and remaining flexible with regards to their hours.

By doing this, you are less likely to lose a valued member of staff as they will feel supported rather than pressured.

4. Remain compassionate

Once an employee is back at work, it doesn’t mean business as usual. Their line managers and even colleagues need to be sensitive to their needs and capable of spotting signs of underlying distress. Some people are particularly good at pretending everything is fine, so it’s worth line managers checking in with them on a regular basis to make sure they are coping with their work demands and making adjustments where necessary. Again, training can help line managers with this initial return back to work.

According to our research, less than 1 in 10 UK employees would confide in their employers if they were suffering with their mental health. If you're concerned that there could be a broader issue, explore our guide on Mental Health in the Workplace.

5. Provide resources

If you have the means, it can be helpful to supply relevant resources. Access to a confidential helpline manned with professional counsellors is one practical example of this.

As part of Benenden Healthcare for Business, after 6 months of joining, employees have access to a 24/7 Mental Health Helpline, where they can speak to qualified therapists and get the additional support they may need.  

Death remains a taboo subject, but if we really want to help employees through an exceptionally tough time, the British ‘stiff upper lip’ mentality has to go. By following the steps outlined above you can help foster a culture of compassion within your workplace that actively helps bereaved employees.

Got a question and want to know more? Call us FREE on 0800 414 8179 today or download our health and wellbeing services brochure