Understanding and flexibility
Grieving is not over in 3 to 5 days. When the employee returns to work after their compassionate leave the real work of grieving is only beginning.
This involves adjusting to the ‘new normal’ that comes about as a result of the person dying. It may mean significant changes in the bereaved employee’s life. For example, if an employee’s partner dies they may have to take on extra responsibilities around the children. Or, if an employee’s parent dies they may have to become more involved in looking after the remaining parent.
These new realities and responsibilities take time to adjust to. It may be that the bereaved employee needs to work part-time or reduced hours for a period in order to make these adjustments. The transition back in to work is therefore very important and requires sensitivity, flexibility and openness on the part of the organisation. If your organisation operates policies on flexible work practices and/or work-life balance these can be very usefully applied to the situation of employee bereavement.
How managers can support bereaved employees
1. Establish good communication with bereaved employee, acknowledge their loss, check about what information to share, and inform colleagues appropriately.
2. Attend funeral rituals where possible, and provide practical help where appropriate.
3. Show flexibility and understanding around work issues and manage the return to work.
4. If unsure, seek advice from someone who has experience of dealing with grief e.g. an employee assistance or occupational health or other grief professional.
1. Maintain good communication with bereaved employee and adjust work requirements as necessary.
2. Learn about the grieving process, and the organisation’s policy and supports.
3. Be watchful for bereaved employees who may be struggling with their grief and direct them towards appropriate additional supports.
4. Encourage social, practical and emotional support of the bereaved employee.
The role of the company
Although managers have a key role in proactively managing employee bereavement, they must be supported at an organisational level both in terms of policy and culture. This means
there must be buy-in throughout the company. How companies can support bereaved employees
1. Ensure an open and proactive approach to employee bereavement amongst all staff, especially senior managers.
2. Acknowledge the employee’s loss and facilitate staff to attend funeral rituals.
3. Support managers in adopting a flexible and sensitive approach to employee
1. Develop an organisational bereavement policy with the help of employees, and make sure it is known and accessible to all staff.
2. Train staff in understanding the grieving process and develop bereavement resource person(s) within the organisation.
3. Work proactively at creating an organisational culture that is supportive of employee bereavement through training and events (e.g. providing input on managing grief as part of induction training).
Showing your support to grieving employees
There are a number of points that are relevant to the ongoing support of employees who are grieving:
■ Loss and grief are normal experiences which will have an impact on employees in their work, as well as their private lives.
■ Grief is not completed in a couple of weeks or months. Effective organisational responses to employee grief will include both short and long-term elements.
■ Most people do not need counselling or therapy to come to terms with a death. They do need information, practical and emotional support. A small amount of people (approx 10-20%) may need specialised help (psychotherapy, counselling etc.).
■ Employee assistance programmes (EAP) can be a helpful resource for line managers on how to manage individual cases. However, good practice suggests that grieving employees are best managed locally by their line manager with support or advice from either human resources, employee assistance professionals, or someone with knowledge of the grieving process.
■ The role of the organisation along with friends, family and other supports, is to help employees to negotiate their grief, and not hinder, block or make this process more difficult.