Grief support and advice for employers

Grief support and advice for employers

07 Dec 2023

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.

Be flexible

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.

Networks create valuable safe spaces

Encourage open communication

Open communication helps build stronger relationships within your company. By being able to discuss things openly and honestly, employees will feel like they can safely express their emotions and needs when grieving. In turn, this line of open communication will allow them to feel seen, heard, and supported as they navigate their healing journey.

Make sure people managers check in with their team regularly on a one-to-one basis. This will give team members a chance to raise any concerns or discuss things that may be impacting their wellbeing, capacity, or productivity. It offers a safe space to talk openly and receive genuine support. This can be especially helpful for employees who are grieving and may want to make their line manager aware.

Build strong peer support networks

Grief support shouldn’t only centre on what employers can do for employees. Your employees can also offer strong lines of support to each other. Building a strong peer support network will weave resilience and understanding throughout your organisation. These networks create valuable safe spaces for employees to share their experience, advice, and empathy. It also fosters a strong sense of community, reminding grieving employees that they aren’t alone.

You can establish more formalised peer support networks by offering grief, mental health, and wellbeing training to network members. These peer support networks can act as the first line of support, offering practical help while signposting bereaved colleagues to further help.

Offer personalised support

Grief is personal. So, the support you offer employees should be personal too. Tailoring the support given to each employee lets you empathically provide support that aligns with the specific needs and challenges of the bereaved individual. Personalised support recognises the nuances of grief, reinforcing a compassionate workplace culture that values the uniqueness of every team member.

Establish a return to work process

Returning to work after bereavement leave can be difficult. Having a well-defined process can make the transition easier for grieving employees. Develop a gradual reintegration plan that clearly explains any realistic expectations for the employee and what ongoing support will be available to them. Offering long-term support through regular check-ins and flexible arrangement is key for helping your employees throughout their ongoing grief journey.

Avoid discrimination and bias

When fostering a compassionate company that supports its employees through grief, it is crucial to prevent discrimination and bias in bereavement policies and assistance. Take time to understand and respect the diverse ways in which cultures and religions navigate grief. Make sure your bereavement policies are inclusive and sensitive, as well as being flexible to the unique needs of each individual. Promoting a work environment free of discrimination ensures every employee’s grief is acknowledged and supported in a respectful, helpful manner.

Final thoughts — Support employees through grief with a compassionate work culture

However, you choose to address grief in the workplace, make sure it is always done with compassion and empathy. By implementing practical policies and processes while empathically understanding and supporting employees, employers can play a pivotal role in guiding bereaved team members through grief and healing.

We hope this article was helpful. For more information from Champs Consulting, please visit their CPD Member Directory page. Alternatively, you can go to the CPD Industry Hubs for more articles, courses, and events relevant to your Continuing Professional Development requirements.

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