The loss of a family member or a dear one can be a debilitating experience. There could be times when you are prepared for it, but often it is sudden and unforeseen and can leave you shaken. Whatever might be the circumstances, we all need time and space to recover after the death of a loved one.
The easiest thing you can do to support a grieving employee is to grant them a few days of bereavement leave. However, grief is quite a complex emotion, and that may not be the end of your involvement in the matter. You may need to tread carefully, even after the employee is back to work.
Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can continue to support a grieving employee, and manage them without interfering too much or overstepping the boundaries.
A Few Ways to Support and Manage a Grieving Employee…
In the event of the death of a loved one, very few employees get paid time off, and that too just for a few days. It is possible that the employee may not be entirely over the grief when he/she gets back to work.
Just like you acknowledge important milestones in the employee’s life like anniversaries and birthdays, it’s equally vital that you handle the phases when they may not be able to give their best. In fact, they will remember your support during the tough times in the future too, doubling or trebling their loyalty towards the organisation.
Here’s what you can do to extend a helping hand to grieving employees and get them back on their feet:
1. Offer Flexible Work Schedules
You can provide flexible work schedules to the grieving employee – work from home, flexible hours or even a part-time status. Start a conversation with the employee and build trust by sharing different resources and options with them.
This will demonstrate your commitment to be supportive of them and help them slowly get back to their routine.
2. Keep an Open Door Policy
After an employee comes back from bereavement leave, they strive hard to get back to the routine, but this may not be easy for everyone. So, make an effort from your side to invite them to talk whenever they need to.
Remember, it’s not necessary for you to advise them (in fact, you can avoid that altogether). Simply offer them the space to communicate. Even if they don’t take your offer, it will show that you care for them and their wellbeing.
3. Don’t Be Too Hard On Them
At the outset, it may seem that your grieving employee is fine once they get back to work, but there could be days when they feel low on energy or may be distracted. They might also make mistakes unknowingly.
This is where you need to show empathy and be patient. Don’t be too hard on them for committing mistakes. Talk to them with compassion, and let them know that while you understand their situation, it is essential to ensure that the quality of work doesn’t suffer. Give them an opportunity to come around during tough times.
4. Suggest Counselling
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, seek help from professionals who are not judgemental or biased to help them recover. You can include counselling services or enlist the help of outside professionals as part of your policy to help grieving employees.
5. Help Them Divert their Emotions by Creating Challenging Opportunities
Apart from lending support, exhibiting empathy and actively listening to the employees, you can also offer them a chance to steer new initiatives, lead a new project or a team. This will give them a chance to make a difference and divest their grief into making some impact at work.
For some employees, distracting their emotions with more work and opportunities to make an impact will help them get over the phase of sadness and move on.
6. Be Legitimate
Refrain from saying what everybody else may already be telling them, and be genuine with your efforts as you console a grieving employee. Using the wrong words can worsen the situation, where an employee doesn’t even feel better and considers your behaviour harsh or inappropriate given the situation.
If you are unsure what to do, simply ask the employee what they need and how you can help them come out of the situation.
7. Don’t Avoid Them
Most managers don’t know how to approach a grieving employee after they return to work, so try to avoid the whole situation.
The worst thing you can do is to ignore your employee’s feelings and jump right back into the routine without acknowledging their loss. Assuming that things will be okay with time is not right – it’s better to ask and approach the employee with kindness.
What Not to Say to a Grieving Employee
When an employee has suffered a loss, and you want to try to make them feel better, it’s natural to use some phrases that seem suited for the situation. However, these socially accepted phrases may not necessarily make the employee feel better – in fact, they could have the opposite impact.
Here are some phrases you can try to avoid when talking to an employee who has lost a loved one:
“Time heals all wounds”
What this phrase implies is that by doing nothing and as time goes by, the employee will feel better, or that with time, they will be able to get over the loss. People rarely ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one. At best, they may learn to accept it and get on with their lives. Using such phrases may only make them feel worse since you are normalising something they may have experienced for the very first time.
Instead, you could simply say, “I am so sorry. I don’t know what to say, but I just know that I care for you. Please tell me how I can help you recover”. Offer help and support, not unsolicited advice.
“It will help if you talk about it”
Some people like to express their feelings, but some like to keep it to themselves. You need to respect your employees and lend an ear only when they feel the need to talk about it. Just tell them if they want to talk, you are always there.
“There is a reason for everything”
Sure, there is a reason why something like this happens. But to say this could make the person feel guilty and that their pain is unwarranted since it’s all a part of a bigger plan. Instead, you can say, “It’s hard to understand why such things happen”.
“You’re still young and you can have another child, or get married again, etc.”
Don’t express such strong opinions to employees grieving over a lost family member or a miscarriage. You never know whether they are in a state of mind to accept them. They may feel rushed into getting over something that has probably changed them, and their lives forever. Again, simply let them know that you are there to listen to them, and if need be, offer help to regain their confidence and zest.
Grief is a powerful and often misunderstood feeling. Usually, a person who is grieving may go through several stages of denial, anger, and numbness, before finally accepting and making peace with the situation. There is no defined timeline for this – each person will deal with it differently.
As an employer, the important thing is to be supportive and establish a relationship of trust in the workplace. 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.
Therefore approach the grieving employee with compassion and an understanding of their feelings so that you can provide them with what they might need to work their way through it.