This informal CPD article, ‘Grief support and advice for employers’, was provided by Champs Consulting, who support organisations globally, delivering mental health first aid training, stress-free living workshops and wellbeing consultancy solutions.
In the world of work, challenges go beyond tasks and timelines. Grief is a deeply personal experience that can profoundly impact our professional lives. As leaders, employers, and people managers, your role extends to supporting your employees through life’s high and lows. In this article, we share practical advice for employers so you can understand how to recognise and support bereaved employees through collective and personal grief.
Understanding grief in the workplace
Acknowledging the impact grief can have on your employees is crucial. Employees going through the motions of grief are tasked with navigating a delicate balance between personal loss and professional responsibilities. Being able to recognise signs of grief or declining wellbeing such as behaviour changes, social withdrawal, or decreased productivity is key to offering timely support. Failing to address grief can lead to decreased morale and increased employee turnover.
Bereaved employees face many challenges when they are grieving. By recognising the challenges of grief, you can offer better support for your team members. By understanding the dynamics of grief and the impact it can have on the workplace will allow you to build a company culture that thrives with resilience and puts the wellbeing of your people first.
Supporting employees through grief
Once you have a clear understanding of how grief may show up in the workplace, the next step is turning that knowledge into actionable, compassionate support. If you truly want to support your bereaved employees, focus on baking authentic support into every layer of your organisation. From creating a compassionate work culture to ensuring your bereavement processes are free from bias or discrimination, well-rounded grief support should be accessible to everyone in your team.
Create a compassionate work culture
Grief isn’t logical. It is deeply rooted in emotion. As such, leading with empathy and compassion is crucial when navigating employee grief. Focus on creating a compassionate work culture that allows employees to openly discuss their wellbeing and seek advice and guidance. Following a top-down approach, encourage leaders to lead emphatically.
Servant-leadership (Greenleaf, 1998) states that leaders should focus on serving their greater good by prioritising the growth and wellbeing of their team. This style of leadership encourages active listening, holding space for others, and understanding and prioritising the needs of the team.
Rigid structures and processes rarely work. Your organisational policies need to have a degree of flexibility built into them, especially when it comes to personal matters such as bereavement and grief. Develop flexible company policies that allow employees to work when they feel most productive and comfortable. Flexible work arrangement can be beneficial for grieving employees by allowing them to create a temporary work pattern that fits their emotional needs and capacity.
Remember, your employee’s flexible needs can change quickly in the event of bereavement and loss. They may, for example, feel like they are capable of being at work, then feel overwhelmed and need to be at home. Building flexibility into your flexible work policies and arrangements can be especially helpful in minimising any additional pressure on grieving employees.
Prioritise employee wellbeing
Creating a work culture that continually priorities employee wellbeing will mean you’re well positioned to support employees in their time of need. Put employee wellbeing at the heart of your organisation by offering mental health resources, training, and coaching.
Employee wellbeing goes beyond “office perks” and team-building activities. The way we work has a huge impact on our wellbeing. So, make sure your organisation addresses employee wellbeing at the core. To fully understand your organisation’s wellbeing needs, conduct wellbeing assessments and surveys so you know which actions to prioritise as part of your overall wellbeing strategy.
By prioritising employee wellbeing, you create a safe environment for employees to raise concerns about poor mental health or situations that are impacting their wellbeing. You could also create specific wellbeing resources related to grief and bereavement — be it workshops, coaching sessions, or resources they can access on employee portals.