In this article, our Senior HR Consultant, Daniel Williams, discusses grief and offers advice on how you can support grieving employees.
Grief can come in many shapes, sizes and present itself with many emotions attached to it – but what is grief?
Grief is more than just a death, it can accumulate into many scenarios, loss in friendships or community. It can be from misplaced uncertainty, past, and traditions. But may also stem from the factor of feeling insecure and unanchored. Nonetheless, grief is still an emotional response to our losses of someone or something we have an attachment to.
Picture this, you are a single person living in a major city, your only interaction is with a colleague you barely know two facts about. But one day you are told you cannot leave the house and work from home if you can. A particular feeling of grief can come from the routine you once knew – so what can you do as a business or HR person?
Different countries have different policies, procedures, and legalities behind this, however, your moral compass still applies. Grieving employees may have the inability to focus and go back to work. However, some need the distraction to move on with their grief. Therefore, a culture of empathy in the workplace is required – but this should not be confused with sympathy.
There are three responsibilities that an employer can do to assist in the creation of a nurturing culture of empathy, to help grieving employees;
If an employer has a policy regarding bereavement, loss, or time-off this is important to follow. There is no particular length of time that is sufficient to grieve, and time cannot undo a loss. Though, time away from work may help those coexist with grief but also arrange the life admin that goes in hand with it. It is seen as ethically and morally unfair if an employee has to use their annual leave, sick days or unpaid for time off to grief, therefore a policy to allow lenience of some time offered by the employer shows empathy, and employees will be grateful for the time away. However, some employees may want to return as soon as possible, which brings me to my next point.
For some the first stage of grief and work, others could be later on. Employers could provide assistance to smooth the transition back to work. For many, the return to work can be daunting. For some, there is no divide between work and home life so it can be difficult to have this stage as a one-size-fits-all. Employees may feel very vulnerable at this stage so a phased return to work could benefit a slower transition or even a referral to an occupational health provider who will have the right tools and knowledge to have those conversations – if you do not feel fully equipped to do so. Some things at work may trigger a relapse of loss or grief so it is important to identify these at an early stage. Return to work interviews and welfare meetings are a perfect opportunity for such topics to be discussed.
It may be difficult for some managers to be able to deal with those that are grieving, yet some may be perfectly fine doing so. Therefore, we should not assume that all managers can have these conversations. In the grand scheme of things, we are all humans and should possess that level of humanity where we do not get things right the first time. One person’s grief cannot be the same as another person’s grief, therefore one should possess a certain degree of emotional intelligence when tackling these conversations.
An employer cannot take the full burden of an employee’s loss but can help the best way they can. This could be through a series of emotional intelligence or empathy training. Or even by fostering regular contact and grief can come back at any stage in a person’s life. This is not a one-stage intervention.
If you have any further questions or queries about the content above or would like to request a demo for oneHR, please don’t hesitate to contact the oneHR team today.