Bereavement is one of the most common factors impacting employees’ performance at work. When events feel out of control, a supportive workplace can be an important source of structure and normality.
However, the fear of returning to work and facing colleagues and a loss of confidence are not uncommon. Many bereaved employees experience difficulties with concentration, decision-making and maintaining previous levels of productivity or performance.
A successful return to work is achievable if an employee is given ongoing support and understanding from managers and colleagues. This involves the employer acknowledging and understanding an employee’s bereavement; being aware of any changes in circumstances that they might have to make as a consequence of a child’s death; listening to the employee and not making any assumptions before communicating with them; being flexible and compassionate when the employee decides to return to the workplace, and understanding that grief from losing a lost one is a journey rather than a moment in time.
The key to negotiating a return to work effectively for all concerned, and fostering a bereavement-aware culture, is putting in place a clear bereavement policy with guidelines, and training where possible, for managers so that employees can have a positive experience when returning to work after time off.
A bereavement policy gives clarity for both employees and managers, and lays the foundations for a consistent and supportive response to managing bereavement in the workplace.
Key elements to consider in supporting bereaved employees both before and after their return to work are: communication channels; entitlement to leave and to pay; a timeframe for taking leave; managing the return to work; and ongoing support.
Ann Chalmers is chief executive at Child Bereavement UK