It’s never easy when somebody you know loses someone close to them, but it can be particularly difficult if you’re an employer and one of your employees is going through the grieving process. How exactly should you deal with a situation like that? It can be hard finding the right balance between acting as a boss would and acting as a friend would; we’re all human, after all.
Everybody deals with grief differently, which means that as a boss, you’ll need to handle each individual’s case differently too. To help in the best way possible, here are just a few ways that you can and should offer support to bereaved employees.
Involve the right people
First things first, if the employee is out of the office due to a family loss, then make sure you speak to all the relevant people in the office before they return. Your HR team will be able to advise on any policies when it comes to bereavement leave, and they might have information on various company health and life insurance benefits. Also, it’s worth finding out whether the employee would like you to inform the rest of the team just yet or not.
Show that you’re thinking of them
While your employee is on bereavement leave, often they are helping to arrange the funeral. It would be a nice idea for you or the whole team to show your support and that you’re thinking of them. Get everybody to sign a card and maybe get in touch with the funeral director and find out if the family are accepting flowers, gifts or maybe charity donations. You could even offer to deliver some ready-prepared meals to help them through this difficult time.
Recognise the signs
Once your employee has returned to work, it’s important to be able to recognise the signs as to whether or not they are struggling with their grief. This is especially the case if they’ve rushed back to the office and not allowed themselves enough time to come to terms with their loss. Work may serve as a distraction, but this doesn’t mean that they’re coping or that it’s good for them. There are many different stages of grief, not just the obvious crying and sadness. Keep an eye out for anger, stress, denial or anything else that seems out of character.
You might not realise it, but because work plays such a huge part in our lives, a line manager can, therefore, play an incredibly important role in the way in which someone deals with his or her grieving process. It’s paramount that you offer them an environment of trust, confidentiality and support, should they need someone to talk to once he or she returns to work. And not just in the beginning, either. Grief works in mysterious ways, affecting some straight away and others a few weeks or months down the line.
Grief doesn’t have any set pattern; there’s no telling when it’s going to kick in, how long it’s going to last and when it’s going to return. In fact, grief will likely always be there for that person; it’s just a case of how well they’re handling it at the time. As an employer, you’ve got to remember that you’re dealing with adults and there’s got to be an element of trust and flexibility. Don’t rush someone back to work; let them take as long as they need, and they’ll more than likely come back sooner than you think. If they’re having a rough day, send them home early. If they’d rather not stand up and present in the meeting, get someone to step in for them. Whatever it is that they need to help them along the way, do whatever you can to be flexible and understanding.
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The important thing is to consider how you would like to be treated by your employer, should you ever find yourself in that situation. Not everybody is going to be the same, but you’ll have a good idea as to what is the right and wrong way to approach things.