Tragedy can fall onto those closest to us, and this includes your own employees. It’s important to know exactly how to support employees when they’re going through a loss, but it can be difficult to know what to actually do when the time comes.
Having the right response ready is vital when finding out that your team member has suffered a loss. You might find it hard to put together the right words, but if you know how to respond correctly to the news, it’ll mean a lot to your employee.
After they’ve suffered grief, the process of talking to an employee is, unfortunately, one of the most delicate and challenging tasks you’ll have to undertake as an employer.
Death is a hard thing to cope with, and when we lose somebody important to us, it can often feel like the world has stopped around us. Life will never be the same again for your employee, but gradually they’ll be able to go on with a new ‘normal’.
If you’d like to work towards minimising the impact of grief in your workplace, then you should consider asking yourself and your management team these questions:
- How do you support a team member through a tough time?
- How can you help them get back to a regular routine?
- How do you take your employee’s emotional needs into account and keep your business operating as usual?
- How can you prepare for these types of situations?
Today we’re going to look at a few things you can do to support an employee after they’ve suffered the loss of a loved one.
Offer them bereavement leave
You should check your company’s bereavement policy and be aware of any local laws regarding bereavement. Let your employee know everything about your policy. This helps take a burden off your employee and lets them know precisely how many days they’ll be able to take off. Let them know immediately what they’re entitled to.
As an employee, they should be entitled to at least five days bereavement leave in the event of an immediate family member’s death.
This leave can be taken over more than one period, starting the day of the death and ending six weeks after the date of the:
- Memorial service
If they have three consecutive months of continuous employment with you, they should be entitled to receive payment for the first three days of leave.
Why is bereavement leave so important?
It’s a chance for you to show and uphold your values as an employer by demonstrating that you care for your organisation’s people.
Bereavement allows your employees to grieve privately away from work, and it allows them to take care of any necessary personal business after a loved one’s death.
- Planning the funeral service
- Making burial arrangement
- Dealing with any estate issues
What to do when an employee is grieving
Part of being a good employer includes exercising emotional intelligence. As soon as you’re aware that one of your employees has experienced a loss, you should contact them directly to:
- Express your condolences
- Let them know you support them
- Offer them all the time they need
Loss is an incredibly personal and sensitive topic that requires a delicate touch. If possible, you should deliver any contact with your employee in person or over the phone.
When reaching out to an employee who has suffered a loss, your goal is to assure them that you care about them and that you’re not concerned about how their absence will affect your business. Give them plenty of space and assure them that they can take all the time they need.
Giving your employee the chance to process the crisis they’re facing is an important step in showing your support. Be respectful of their space and figure out how to delegate their workload to your other employees.
You should also quietly notify your other team members and alert your HR personnel to organise their time off during the bereavement period.
What not to say to a grieving employee
1. It’s not about you
Their loss isn’t about you or your business. When talking to your grieving employee, don’t discuss how their loss and absence will impact your company. Instead, show your support and ensure them that they won’t have to worry about work while they’re grieving.
2. There’s no bright side
Gestures intended to lighten the mood or soothe their pain are, in principle, very kind, but your grieving employee doesn’t want to be told about a bright side. They want to grieve for the person in their life that they’ve just lost.
3. Be aware of religious beliefs
Everybody has different beliefs, so offering out your beliefs about God or heaven to somebody who isn’t religious can come across as rude. If your employee doesn’t share the same beliefs as you, you could offend them and come off as insensitive.
4. Let them feel
You should never tell a grieving person how they should feel. They might need to cry for days, and they might feel incredibly vulnerable, so just let them figure it out on their own and make them aware that you’re there if they need you.
Offer emotional support guidance
When your employee returns to work after a loved one’s death, it’s essential to be both patient and accommodating. Remember to let them know that you care about their well-being and that you’re there to support them.
Many workplaces offer EAP (Employee Assistance Program), which includes access to a counsellor who is qualified to talk with your employee about grief. It will help to let your employee know about this service if they need to talk to somebody.
Always maintain an open-door policy so that your employee knows that if they’re not feeling well or have concerns that you’ll be there to listen.
If it’s possible for your business, try to have a transition period for your employee that’s different from their regular working routine.
For example, you can:
- Let them work from home for a while
- Continue to provide them with support
- Lighten their workload
- Help them to avoid situations that remind them of grief
- Let them work reduced hours
Easing workloads and lowering your expectations for a while can give your employees time to heal.
Try to monitor your employee for signs of mental health issues that could be caused by grief.
Here are five signs that your grieving employee needs help:
- Extended periods of lack of focus or productivity
- Social withdrawal
- Negative behavioural change
- Attendance issues
- Declining work performance
Regularly ask your employee how things are going. If you’re concerned that they’re not alright, consider suggesting a counsellor or other mental health professional. You can also reintroduce them to EAP.
Not sure where to start with EAP, employee benefits, health spending accounts, or employee assistance plans? Seek the help of a team that knows what options are best for you. BP Group Solutions is a team of industry professionals that can guide you through the process of getting your entire team set up with a great benefits package, EAPs and HSAs.
Start making your employee’s health a priority and keep everyone on your team happy, healthy, stress-free and loving the workplace.