How to support a grieving employee

October 11, 2018

Losing a loved one is one of the most difficult experiences that any of us will endure in our lives. It touches every aspect of our lives, including our employment. As an employer, you may be facing this scenario for the first time and may need help with how to respond to and support your employee.

Treating your employee with respect and compassion is of course the right thing to do morally, but there are studies that show it may also be the best business decision too. A study by the NCPC (National Council for Palliative Care) showed that 32% of people surveyed said they did not feel their employer treated them with compassion after a bereavement. A separate survey found that 56% of people would consider leaving their employer if they were not supported by their employer after someone close to them died. With this in mind, it is critical that you and your team are able to act with compassion and understanding and offer the right level of support to your employees during this difficult time.

Understanding their grief

The first step is for you and your top-level team to understand the grieving process. The Five Stages of grief involve denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance but they can encompass a whole range of other emotions too. Some employees may seem fine on the surface while their grief bubbles away underneath, while other employees may be very extroverted in their emotions. There is no set pattern and it is important to listen, be understanding and not to judge them during this time.

Returning back to work

It’s important to be flexible with your employees but also to recognise the role that work can play as an emotional anchor. Your own individual bereavement policies will dictate how much time they will be able to take away from work for the funeral and to handle any affairs, but you may want to sit down and discuss this with your employee and tailor it towards their individual needs. For example, a period of flexible working times, a phased return and the ability to do some work from home may help them to better adjust back to life at work, while still allowing their work to bring some perspective and normality into their life.

You should also be sensitive of the role that faith can play over certain funeral rights and rituals. For example, some religions such as Islam require that the dead are buried as soon as possible. This may mean that your employee will need to arrange or attend a funeral at very short notice. Equally, Hindus and Jews are required to mourn at their homes for a period of time. It is important to respect your employees’ religious requirements and failing to do so could lead to prosecution under the Equality Act 2010.

Ongoing support

You will also need to support your employee on an ongoing basis. While their grief may lessen over time, there might be certain days of the year such as birthdays and anniversaries where they need your support. Grief could even come at a totally unexpected time, out of the blue and prompted by something unlikely. To deal with this you should try and keep an ongoing dialogue with your employee, to check in with them and see how they are coping and create a safe space for them to talk to you, or a trusted colleague, should they desire.

Additional services

Finally, another way that you can support your employee is by making sure that they are aware of opportunities for counselling, group therapy and other professional support, whether privately or through charities. Here are just a few that we recommend: