At some point in life, we will all experience grief and the loss of a loved one – It can be especially difficult now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, most people are unable to attend the funeral due to social distancing measures.
Dealing with bereavement can be very devastating and difficult for many different reasons. Patients in a hospital currently, may not be allowed to have visitors due to the risk of infection, this can have a serious effect on their friends & families mental health and can potentially deprive them of saying goodbye.
When an employee is experiencing grief and loss, it is extremely important that employers do their utmost to allow employees to get to grips with their loss and eventually move on! When we lose a loved one, there are many stages of grief and additional support at work may actually speed up the grieving process.
Research has shown that when employers handle employee bereavement well (with compassion and understanding), the grieving process is aided and staff are much more likely to have a sense of loyalty to their employer. If employers handle bereavement poorly and do not offer appropriate support, it can have a long-term negative impact on the employer-employee relationship.
When we lose someone important to us, it can often be very difficult to cope and adjust to life without them. Some people may need more time than others to fully come to terms with their loss, whereas others will want to get back to normal life as soon as possible (often as a distraction).
Returning to work can help employees deal with grief and loss by taking their mind off their loved one, however, other employees may need extra time off work to fully come to terms with their loss. ACAS suggests that employers can benefit greatly from taking a compassionate route and providing extra support for staff who are experiencing grief and loss.
Top 4 Tips for Employers
Identify the Stages of Grief
There are traditionally five stages of the grieving process that most people experience – Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. It is very important that employers and senior management understand & recognise these stages, then they can act accordingly.
During the first stage (denial), employees may go into shock or find the experience very overwhelming, this can trigger them to question if the loss really happened and they may find it hard to believe that their loved one is really gone. Once the initial shock is over, the second stage occurs (anger), staff may feel a strong sense of anger – Perhaps at the loved one for leaving them or at other people for not ‘saving’ or supporting them more.
During the third stage (bargaining), employees may start to question the ‘what ifs’ or they may try to do things to bring back their loved one, to try to get life back to normal. After this stage, depression may kick in – Staff may withdraw themselves, feel empty and question life in general. This is natural when coming to terms with the loss of a loved one and realising they’re really gone.
The final stage of grief is acceptance, this isn’t to be mistaken for employees being back to normal/over the death. Acceptance means the employee has accepted the fact that they will never see their loved one again and they can start to return back to ‘normality’ & can continue living their life again.
Offer Compassion/Bereavement Leave and/or Pay
According to the UK government, employees are allowed to take time off work to deal with an emergency but how long the leave lasts and whether or not it is paid leave is at the discretion of the employer (this information is often found in the employee handbook). Allowing employees to stay off work can be very beneficial for the grieving process and it can relieve the perceived pressure to return to work.
Navigating through the five stages of grief can be extremely difficult and can often take time – Having time off work can help employees get to grips with their grief and can speed up the process in some cases. Having a boss that is very empathetic and understanding can significantly aid the process and can show employees that they are valued.
Additionally, as of the 6th of April 2020, parents/guardians are legally eligible for statutory parental bereavement pay and leave. This allows for two weeks of paid leave for both parents, this time can be taken as two weeks together or two separate weeks.
Have Patience with the Return to Work
For some, returning to work can act as a good coping mechanism, giving employees a good distraction from their grief – Working can provide structure and normality for those experiencing loss. However, everyone is different and how one person reacts to death, may be completely different from the next.
Some employees may be happy to return to work shortly after their loss, although others may take several weeks/months to fully recover. Employers should be patient and try not to rush employees back into work before they’re ready. If employees do return to work preemptively, it can delay and ‘string out’ the grieving process.
Employers should take the time to communicate with employees who have experienced the loss of a loved one, this can help them evaluate which stage of grief they are currently in and helps to identify employees who may be struggling mentally with their loss – This helps employers make a fully-informed decision on employees return to work.
Expect & Accept Lower Productivity Initially
After suffering the loss of a loved one, employees may be less productive than before, as it often takes a long period of time to fully come to terms with grief. If, as an employer, you recognise the fact that your staff may not be able to do as much work as they previously could, employees may find it much easier to come back to work.
In 2020, a research paper investigating ‘work after death’ and the relationship between grief and returning to work found that employees who had recently experienced a death often had a reduced productivity level for some time.
This is most likely because the employee’s mind is distracted, making it much harder to focus on the work at hand. Employers that show they understand and support their employees who are experiencing loss, often find their employees recover much quicker!
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