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HR Blog

March 4, 2022 | Olaide Bakare, PHRi

Everyone, at some point in their lives, will experience the death of someone close to them. Based on this knowledge, it would be a fair assumption that at some point as a manager, one of your employees will experience bereavement.

There is no universal road map for how to handle grief in the workplace and navigating conversations about grief can feel overwhelming. However, being an empathetic leader is more than being considerate when a direct report needs an extra day on an assignment. It also means being supportive when your employees have extenuating circumstances in their personal life that takes their attention and focus away from the office.

Here are some ways managers can support grieving employees and get them back on their feet:

Acknowledge Your Employee’s Loss

The best you can do as the manager of a grieving employee is to acknowledge the loss without making any demands. When you get a chance, privately offer your sincere condolences. It may be difficult and feel uncomfortable, but it is important to show grieving employees that you recognize their loss and they are not navigating these difficult times alone.

Failing to reach out opens the door to an already distraught employee to form some negative assumptions: you don’t care; you won’t be making accommodations; you expect the same productivity; etc.

Ask Them What They Need

Strong communication is always important in the workplace, but it is particularly vital during a difficult period. Grief is unpredictable by nature and affects different people in different ways, making it extremely difficult to gauge, manage, or balance it with professional demands. While some people may crave more projects to do as a distraction from their emotions, others may find it difficult to accomplish a full plate of tasks. That is why it is best to have an open, candid conversation with your employee about how you and the company can best support them.

This private conversation will give you an opportunity to discuss any questions your employee may have. Common questions include the time-off policy, bereavement leave, schedule flexibility, and more. Most of all, an open, heart-to-heart talk with a grieving employee will give you a chance to set expectations at work and help put them at ease during this difficult time. Although it will be hard for you both, a supportive, open conversation at this time can set the tone for your relationship going forward. When done right, your employee’s commitment and loyalty to the company will be strengthened.

Manage Expectations

At the outset, it may seem that your grieving employee is fine once they get back to work, but an employee enduring loss would most likely be experiencing a rollercoaster of emotions that may include bouts of profound sadness, shock, irritability, and more. All of these emotional reactions may create difficulty for you and other colleagues, which could impact the morale in the office.

This is where you need to show empathy and be patient. Encouraging grieving employees to speed up the process or try to mask their pain will only force the grief deeper, delaying or stopping their healing altogether. Instead, accept the emotional difficulties as part of the natural grieving process and create a supportive office culture. Make reasonable accommodations, such as allowing them to leave early or take some time alone in the middle of the workday, and let employees know that they will not be penalized for showing that they are human.

Connect Them To Resources

Grief varies with each employee. Some may recover immediately and some may go through stages of denial, depression, or anger. Even for the toughest of people, grief can be hard to get over. Therefore, ensure you direct bereaved team members to helpful services and resources, if you offer them, such as occupational health and employee assistance programs, or point to external sources of support.

Supporting the mental and emotional wellbeing of bereaved employees is extremely important and support will often need to be ongoing. As a Manager, the more flexible and supportive you are during this difficult time, the more the employee will feel comfortable and be loyal over the long run.

Do you have a bereavement leave policy?

A bereavement leave policy provides both line managers and employees with guidance and reassurance of what to expect if they experience a bereavement. If managers do not have a bereavement policy to refer to and have complete discretion over leave, workload and flexible working, there may be inconsistencies in the way colleagues are treated across the organization when they experience a bereavement.

A bereavement leave policy would empower line managers on how and what to communicate with a bereaved employee. It also gives an employee reassurance and certainty about their situation.

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