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How can employers help grieving staff?

 

Employers have great potential to make a significant difference in a grieving employee’s life. They can provide functional support, such as leave and flexible working arrangements, and emotional support through acknowledging their employee’s grief.

This support not only provides profound benefits to the grieving employee, but also all employees in providing an example of how to approach grief.

Living with grief

We regularly return to the topic of grieving on The Last Post. The main messages that we try to convey are that grieving can be expressed in many ways, including crying, withdrawal, difficulty making decisions, anger, reduced energy levels, inability to concentrate and anxiety.

These forms of expression can change over time, may vary in different certain circumstances, and last for years. Most people never ‘get over’ their grief as society may expect, rather, people find ways to accommodate grief into their lives.

Grieving at work

Unfortunately, many aspects of our society don’t respond well to grief

We’re not taught about the grieving process, we often don’t know how to respond, and there are places where it may be considered ‘inappropriate’ to display the emotions associated with grief, such as the workplace.

Employers can help to address this by supporting employees when they are grieving and providing and example to all of their staff.

 

There are so many things that an employer can do

These activities can be functional, in terms of addressing work arrangements such as leave, work hours, location, appraisals and tasks. They can also be emotional such as acknowledging an employee’s grief, sending them flowers and encouraging them to be open about their experience.

 

The Compassionate Friends of Victoria found that:

“Often, it is not simply a certain period of leave that is most beneficial to a bereaved person, more tellingly is the fact that they feel genuinely cared for; that they are part of a bigger “family” who are really thinking about how they can best support the bereaved.”

Ways the workplace can support a bereaved employee

The Compassionate Friends of Victoria provided this list of ways in which a workplace can support an employee:

  • Arranging slow return to normal duties
  • Extended bereavement leave
  • Providing grief counselling support
  • Postponing performance appraisal
  • List of grief resources/support groups available
  • Reduced expectation of work performance and pace
  • Management and work colleagues visiting, providing financial and practical support to bereaved families
  • Financial and practical assistance with funeral arrangements
  • Allowing other staff the time off to attend the funeral
  • Flexible working hours
  • Encouragement of staff to spend time with the bereaved person and talk about the loss
  • Developed return-to-work schedule, gradually building up to full employment
  • Leave at the time of bereavement anniversary
  • Offer where practical the opportunity to work from home
  • Employer paying for medical supplies and expenses
  • Advance of pay when required.

 

These actions will not only support the employee who is grieving, but they will also demonstrate to all staff that grief is not a short-term experience, it is a long-term process and people who are grieving need acknowledgement, tolerance and genuine care.

Resources

This list was published in “Beyond the Death of a Loved One: How Employers Make a Difference”, by Fiona Heylan and Anne Wicking in Grief Matters, Summer 2009.

The Compassionate Friends of Victoria also has resources available on its website.

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