While scheduling shifts, managing days off and grappling with last minute sick days when things feel hectic are tough, there’s something a little extra difficult about supporting an employee while they grieve.
And although it’s in our nature to view disturbances to work life as ‘inconvenient’, it’s important to also see the experience of supporting them through this stage as meaningful and pretty special. You have the ability to make this time a little easier for them, the power to bring light into their day. It’s a big responsibility, but it can be a super impactful one.
Here’s a quick how-to guide on supporting your grieving employees so you’ll feel equipped when (or if) the time comes.
Announcing a death to the rest of the team
When your employee (or one of their friends or family members) reaches out to you to inform you of a death of their loved one, it’s important to ask them for permission to share the news with the rest of the team. While it’s essential for the wider team to know that their teammate has said goodbye to a loved one, it’s not necessarily appropriate for the manager to share the news – especially if the grieving employee would like to share the news on their own terms.
Always ask, and then if you’re given permission to do so, contact the HR department so they can inform everyone about the news, or look over your company policy for sharing death-related announcements. If you don’t yet have a policy in place, now might be the perfect time to develop one.
Wishing condolences to the employee
As soon as you hear of the news, it can be nice to organise a team card, gift or flowers to send your well wishes and condolences to the grieving.
Letting them know you’re thinking of them and are available should they need anything can be a lovely touch. A gentle reminder that you’re there to provide support and take care of their workload can also be a great way to reduce any additional pressure.
Guiding employees through their return to work
Returning to the office (or even working from home) is extremely challenging for those who have been grieving. The world can seem as though it’s been put on pause, and then upon entering the office (or their Monday morning Zoom call) for the first time after time off can be a shock to the system.
Before they return to work, look at their workload and schedule for the upcoming week(s) and see if there’s anything you can do to reduce the pressure. Consider whether you can delegate some of their work to others. Anything you can do to help them ease back into ‘regular programming’ without added stress can do wonders in helping them heal.
Be patient, and expect further disruptions to work days
While a grieving employee might be returning to work after some time off, chances are they won’t be feeling 100% themselves yet. As we know, the grieving process isn’t over in a flash – it can linger for months or even years. Be patient with your employee and ensure they aren’t working longer hours than usual or pushing through days that feel especially tough.
Giving them time to step away from the desk during the day (for example, taking them out for lunch to discuss non-work-related topics) or encouraging them to ease back into work by committing to half days (or even leaving an hour or two early) can be a great way to avoid burnout, exhaustion and emotional overwhelm.
Some signs to look out for
When a person grieves, they usually don’t behave like their ‘usual’ self. It’s important to remember that it’s not unusual for employees to be a little less productive, motivated or cheerful than usual during this time.
Unusual signs might be:
- not meeting their responsibilities
- making mistakes they wouldn’t usually make
- becoming resentful and difficult to work with
- frequently calling in sick, disappearing throughout the work day, or not arriving to work on time (or even not arriving at all).
While it can feel uncomfortable bringing up issues like these in the workplace, it’s important you do so in case your employee needs a little extra support. You can then work together to make their return to work a little easier, and can even provide them with resources that’ll support them during this tough time.
Resources to share with grieving employees
Lifeline provides immediate support by phone, via online chat or face-to-face. You can call the helpline to discuss all types of personal struggles.
Call: 13 11 14
If you or someone you know requires emergency mental health assistance, you should call the police on 000.