Grief can affect people in different ways. It can be difficult to carry on working as normal; lack of sleep can cause issues and concentration may difficult. For some people work is a solace and something else to focus on other than the recent bereavement.
How to respond
As their employer, ask the employee what they want you to tell the other employees in your organisation about the bereavement. Privacy suits some but being as open as possible helps others.
Be as supportive as possible, particularly if you are the person’s line manager. They may need adjustments made to their work temporarily. Accept that it can be difficult for a grieving person to feel like themselves again after a loss. Sometimes people delay their grieving as they are organising funerals and ensuring everyone affected knows about the death. This means they may only be starting their grieving process as they return to work. Ask your employee to be honest about how they think they will manage the return to work. Be prepared to adapt.
Handling the situation sensitively can be much appreciated and can help the employee to get back to a new normal for them whilst feeling supported.
Managing a grieving employee may seem like a big responsibility. Ask your employee what they need during a time of grieving. Do they need their workload lightened? Are there tasks better carried out by others temporarily? Be open with them and keep lines of communication open. Check in with the employee periodically as they may seem as if they are coping, but they may not be.
Helping Employees return to work
Adapt your expectations for grieving employees as there may be an adjustment period when they return to work. Use common sense and empathy. If you’ve experienced grief – what helped you? Managers are not expected to be counsellors but can be sensitive to the new situation. The employee may now be a single parent for example so may need to amend their working hours. A phased return to work could also be helpful.
Everyone is different
Grief can have a huge impact on an employee’s ability to do their job, their confidence can be knocked. It is important not to make assumptions, however. Some people want to get back to their normal workload as soon as possible and other may find it more challenging to do so. Acknowledge that their needs may change over time.
EAPs (Employee Assistance Programmes) can be a useful investment for employers. EAPs can provide counselling and advice for bereaved employees. This can include child bereavement and suicide bereavement. Counsellors may meet employees in person, by telephone or online. All counselling is confidential and can be a worthwhile investment and can be much appreciated by employees. EAPs can also help with mental health difficulties, financial issues, legal issues and really anything personal that can affect work performance including health and wellbeing.
You may find it helpful to develop a bereavement policy or to update your absence or compassionate leave policy and for help with this or for guidance relating to a grieving employee do contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org