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How to Support a Grieving Employee in the Workplace

Derrick Grant

Derrick Grant

How to Support a Grieving Employee in the Workplace
Mar 7, 2024

Grief can strike in many forms and at any time. When supporting a grieving employee, offering understanding, flexibility, and empathy is essential. This article explores how HR managers can effectively support employees during their grieving process and create an environment that respects and recognises the challenge of managing death.

Understanding Grief in the Workplace

Grief can manifest in several stages, including denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Recognising that everyone experiences these stages differently and at their own pace is essential.

Grief can significantly impact an employee's performance and well-being. Employees may seem distracted, less productive, or need more time off. Understand that this is a normal part of their grieving process, and be prepared to offer them the support they need during this time.

According to a report by Sue Ryder, intense grief experienced by an employee can affect their productivity to 70% capacity in the first six months following their loss, and 95% for the second six months. From an economic standpoint, this impacts the business’ revenue, but from a societal standpoint, it’s in our best interests as colleagues and futhermore humans to support those experiencing loss and grief.

“Sorrow makes us all children again – destroys all differences of intellect. The wisest know nothing.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Offering Support to a Grieving Employee

The first step in supporting a grieving employee is active listening. When an employee shares their grief, listen without judgement or the urge to "fix" their pain. This doesn't mean you need to have all the answers. Instead, show them that their feelings are heard and valid.

Offer emotional support through simple, sincere expressions of sympathy. A statement as simple as "I'm sorry for your loss" can be comforting. Avoid clichés like "They're in a better place now", which can unintentionally minimise the employee's grief.

Being flexible with work arrangements can greatly help a grieving employee. This could mean flexible working hours, remote work, or even temporary job duty modifications.

In the UK, there is no legal right to paid time off for bereavement (unless someone is eligible for parental bereavement pay when a child dies). But most employers allow 5 days off to deal with the bereavement of a close one or dependant.

As an HR manager, it's essential to communicate these rights to your employees. Including the company’s policy for bereavement leave and any additional support that should be included in the employee handbook to offer clear and unambiguous guidance.

Long-Term Support Strategies

The process of grieving doesn't have a set timeline. Long after the initial shock, an employee may still need support. One way HR managers can facilitate the offer of help is by providing access to mental health resources and counselling services. At Ownleaf, our Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) include grief counselling services that can help an employee navigate their emotions.

Follow-ups are also crucial. Check-in on the employee regularly to see how they're doing and if they need additional support. This continuous care signals to the employee that they're valued and that their grief is recognised and respected. This may be in the form of a monthly one-to-one meeting or even just more informal checks to see how they are coping. Be sure to gauge their response as to whether they need further assistance.

“Many people overlook or are surprised by the physical side of grief. It is very real and it bears attending.” — Alla Renee Bozarth

Common Mistakes to Avoid

One of the most common mistakes is avoiding the grieving employee or their grief. Although it may feel uncomfortable, acknowledging the employee's loss and grief is crucial in their healing process.

Expecting the employee to "move on" or "get back to normal" quickly is another mistake to avoid. Understand that grief is a long process and it's different for everyone. Pressuring an employee to quickly bounce back can be damaging and may prolong their healing process or even lead to them leaving the company. It may also reflect poorly on the company’s culture and attitude towards its employees, thus pushing the members of staff to leave the business or sour their opinion on leadership.

A recent report highlighted that 'More than half (56%) of employees would consider leaving their employer if treated badly following a bereavement.'

Supporting a grieving employee is a delicate task but one that HR and line managers are often called upon to do. By understanding grief, offering direct support, maintaining long-term strategies, and avoiding common mistakes, you can help your employees navigate this challenging time and foster a compassionate workplace environment.

Remember, our role is not to remove the pain but to provide a safe space where employees can express their grief and feel supported.

Want to share your thoughts with us? Leave a comment below. We’re here to listen

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Ownleaf, 614 Maurer Court, John Harrison Way, SE10 0SX, London
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