If you’ve ever experienced the death of a loved one, you know how devastating the loss can be – and how it turns your world upside down. When you’re feeling a new, raw emotion every few minutes, it’s hard to create any sort of normalcy, especially with your job.
That’s why you should take a considerate, compassionate approach to bereavement and do everything you can to ease an employee’s burden.
During this difficult time, an employee will hear these words again and again, “If there’s anything I can do – anything at all - please let me know.” Well, this is your time to show that you, as an employer, are not just talk when it comes to supporting your employees, during the good times and the bad.
Death, stress and struggling to move on
Based on the stress scale created by psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe in 1967, the death of a spouse is one of life’s most stressful events, with the death of a close family member not far behind.
And the upheaval it creates is considerable. According to the online resource, MedicineNet.com:
“Symptoms of complicated grief include intense emotion and longings for the deceased, severely intrusive thoughts about the lost loved one, extreme feelings of isolation and emptiness, avoiding doing things that bring back memories of the departed, new or worsened sleeping problems, and having no interest in activities that the sufferer used to enjoy.”
As you might imagine, this level of personal turmoil does not bode well in the workplace. An employee who was once upbeat and productive might become forlorn and distracted after a significant loss. What you do during those first few days and weeks can make all the difference to your grieving employees, and help them get back on their feet that much faster.
How your bereavement policies can boost morale
What types of bereavement benefits and resources can you provide to show you’re a company that cares about your employees and their well-being?
=> Funeral leave for a family member – As a matter of policy, most companies extend up to three paid days off for a full-time employee to attend the funeral of an immediate family member. But is it enough?
“Three days is a tragedy,” says Russell Friedman, author of The Grief Recovery Handbook and executive director of the Grief Recovery Institute. “Some companies are extraordinary and have big hearts when it comes to giving time off after a death, but many are stuck in the dark ages.”
He claims that employees need at least a week to deal with the details surrounding a death and funeral, especially since many people don’t live near their families these days. He also recommends extending your funeral leave policy to part-time employees.
Be sensitive to the fact that every situation is different. Managers should be allowed to adjust this policy to meet the needs of their staff. An employee who just lost a spouse of 25 years in a terrible accident might need more time off than an employee whose grandmother died peacefully at age 94.
=> Thoughtful support from management and peers – It’s not always easy knowing what to say to a grieving employee after a loss. But this is one of those critical times when managers need to push through their own discomfort and reach out to the employee. Now, more than ever, managers and supervisors need to be a stable influence, lending a helping hand and an open ear.
If you’re like most companies, you’ll give the employee a sympathy greeting card, send flowers or make a donation to a special charity.
Be sure to notify fellow employees of a death in a coworker’s family, as well. Share the news face to face with those coworkers who will be most affected by the news – and issue a simple e-mail or memo to the rest of the staff.
=> Remind the employee of your employee assistance program (EAP) – An employee’s need for support doesn’t end when the funeral is over. If your company offers counseling services, encourage the grieving employee to take advantage of them. And keep in mind that an employee’s work performance may be inconsistent in the first few weeks back on the job. If the employee was hard-working and dedicated prior to the loss of a loved one, he or she can get back to that place - with the right amount of support and assistance.