Bereavement is one of the most devastating things any of us will ever go through. For many employers, it can be difficult to know how to respond when an employee is bereaved, and how to ensure that the impact on both the individual and the organisation is minimised.
Providing paid bereavement leave is the very least organisations should be doing to support bereaved employees. We, at Cruse Bereavement Care, were delighted when the government announced in January that two weeks’ statutory leave would be coming into effect; however, I would hope and expect that many employers will go much further than this. There is no time limit on grief, nor should there be on the amount of time or support employees need.
The most important thing to remember is that grief affects everyone differently. Some people may welcome the distraction of coming back to work, however others might find it overwhelming and struggle to carry out their work effectively. Employers should be prepared and able to adapt to all scenarios and ensure the employee knows they do not need to come back to work straight away.
When managing bereavement at work, it is important to remember to be empathic and understanding: the basic act of offering condolences can make a huge difference. Be caring and compassionate, and also consider the impact on other members of the team.
Also, employers should work with the bereaved person to see what support they need. Even simple things like asking them how they would like to stay in contact and how much information they want others to know, are good places to start. Do not assume that if they appear to be coping well, they do not need any support, as this is usually not the case.
Do not assume that when an employee is back at work that they are ‘over it’. Again, there is no time limit on grief.
The full impact of the bereavement may not be felt until some time after the death. When they are back, hold regular reviews with them to check how they are doing, and consider any adjustments that may now be needed. It is also good to be aware of any special dates such as inquests, birthdays and the anniversary of the death.
I cannot stress enough how important it is that parents are given time and space to grieve in the aftermath of a child’s death. Support from employers can play a huge part in this.
Steven Wibberley is chief executive at Cruse Bereavement Care