Work & Wellbeing

Supporting Your Staff After Someone Dies: A Guide to Bereavement Policy

Business Advice | 9 May 2023 | 12 months ago

There is nothing easy about losing a loved one, but knowing that your employer is there to support you can make a huge difference. As an employer, it’s important to have a clear bereavement policy in place, which should be centred on making grief and the aftermath of loss slightly easier for a staff member to handle in terms of work. They shouldn’t feel as though work is another struggle for them to manage, nor should they feel pressured to return to the workplace immediately.

There is no quick fix when it comes to losing someone and grief is not a process that can be rushed, but supporting your staff after someone dies can be hugely beneficial. Below, we have listed some of the key ways to support an employee who has suffered a bereavement.

Demonstrate Empathy

There is no denying that losing a loved one can be a devastating experience, and as an employer, it’s important to show empathy and support to your employees during such a difficult time. Your staff need to know that you are there for them, and that you understand what they are going through. From the moment someone informs you of their bereavement, you need to respond with empathy and sensitivity. This should involve reaching out to the employee who has lost a loved one and expressing your condolences. You should also check in with them periodically to see how they are doing, especially once they have returned to work. It can be hugely comforting to know that your employer is still there for you, even after the initial shock has passed.

Let them know that you are there for them, that you are sorry for their loss and that you will help in any way that you can. It’s also a good idea to provide any resources that you have, such as information on grief counselling or support groups, and provide access to any employee assistance that your business has to offer. A lot of employees aren’t fully aware of everything that they can access at work, so be sure to highlight resources relevant to bereavement. This can help the employee cope with their loss and find additional support.

Offer Time Off and Flexibility

Regardless of the type of business that you have or the industry that you work in, employees have a legal right to time off when a dependant dies. But, in any case, offering leave is the right thing to do, and this includes allowing time off for them to attend the funeral. One of the best ways to support your staff after someone dies is to offer flexibility on hours and duties during their time of mourning, and don’t put any pressure on them to do more than they feel capable of.

Offer the employee some time off to grieve and attend to any necessary arrangements, and this could include compassionate leave or additional paid time off beyond what is typically offered.

Though you are not legally required to offer this, it does help to support your employee and it’s sure to make their bereavement slightly easier to navigate. You should also be understanding if the employee needs to adjust their work schedule or take additional time off. Allow them to take the time they need to process their loss without making them feel as though doing so is an inconvenience to the business. They should return to work when they are ready and feel able to, not because they are worried about being penalised for having time off.

Manage Expectations

It’s unrealistic to expect your employee to return to work after a loss and immediately work to their full capacity and productivity. You should recognise that your employee will not necessarily be back to 100% upon their return and that reasonable adjustments may need to be made. This could mean delegating tasks so they have smaller, more manageable projects to focus on, or allowing them to take regular breaks throughout the day if they feel as though they need a moment alone. It’s also beneficial to have the rest of the team picking up the slack for a short period of time.

It’s also likely that your employee will be less interested in work than normal, and it’s likely that they will be disinterested in joining in with everything that the team does. Allow for this, and give them time to gradually get back into the swing of things. Remember, bereavement can make someone especially sensitive to criticism, so make allowances as much as possible. If you do need to give negative feedback or provide guidance, do so in a way that makes them feel supported and understood.

Create an Open Work Environment

Staying on top of work when you are grieving can be hugely overwhelming, which is why creating an open work environment is key. Your staff should feel free to discuss feelings and experiences of grief in the workplace, as this is all part of the healing process. Not only does this help the individual who is going through a bereavement to heal and come to terms with what has happened, but it lets others know that talking about their personal struggles and losses is accepted, encouraged and that support is available to them at work.

Everyone grieves differently, so it’s important to be patient and understanding with your employee. Some people benefit from having an open work environment and being able to talk through their loss with colleagues, whilst others prefer to have the flexibility to take time away from work if they need to. Supporting your staff after someone dies can boost employee happiness and satisfaction at work, which can benefit the business as a whole in the long run. After all, happy employees are productive, loyal and trustworthy employees.

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