Unfortunately, all of us will experience loss of a loved one and grief during our careers. Some of you reading have already experienced it. It’s inevitable for us to face that type of chapter in our lives. Despite this, organizations are really bad at dealing with bereavement and grief. Luckily, some people are starting to pay attention to this issue. Today, we breakdown new research about how we can get better at supporting grieving employees.
Grieving Employees’ Challenges
We all have a general idea of how difficult grief might be even if we haven’t experienced it much ourselves. Losing a person we love can be incredibly challenging and personally draining. Research estimates a typical grieving period lasts one to two years. Yet, in the U.S., there are no laws protecting employees that need to take time off for a funeral or grief. Some employers do provide some leave but it’s typically only 3 days long. These short leaves are common in other Western countries as well, like Canada and the UK. Thus, in addition to the grief, employees have to deal with not getting the time they may need to cope.
In addition, grief can cause a lot of challenges with your overall wellness. First, grieving employees can feel preoccupied, may have difficulties concentrating, and may struggle to make decisions. Grief can also increase anxiety and reduce your energy levels and sleep quality. Finally, grief can cause people to withdraw socially, causing isolation. All of these grief symptoms can also impact employees’ ability to work as effectively as before the loss. Thus, it is critical that organizations step up and start supporting their grieving employees – even if it isn’t just because it’s the right thing to do.
How to Support Grieving Employees
New research has come out that defines a very specific model on how to help grieving employees. It’s called the C.A.R.E. Model of Employee Bereavement Support. While this model is brand new and still needs additional research, it’s a great starting point to making a difference in how you can support grieving employees. It’s geared towards leaders and organizations but co-workers can definitely do some of these things as well to help their colleagues out!
The first thing that really matters in supporting employees is clear two-way communication. Managers and HR need to be extremely clear about the bereavement policies and what is available to support the employee. Obviously, the employee also needs to share that they experienced a loss. In addition, the leader needs to work to understand the employee’s needs and have open discussions surrounding those needs.
Discussing the employee’s needs leads to the next area of focus to support grieving employees – accommodations. Leaders and organizations need to be flexible and adapt to the employee’s needs during this difficult time. What did they say they needed? Can you provide the employee with fewer working hours at first or maybe a quiet, private space for when they are overcome with emotion? Can you re-imagine the job to support the employee’s current needs as they cope with the loss? Get creative and don’t feel like the only thing you can do is give the allotted bereavement policy days off. This is where co-workers can also get involved. Can you be flexible with deadlines with your grieving colleague? Can you maybe take something off their plate? Accommodating for the person’s needs at this time will allow them to heal and get back to their baseline state more quickly.
Additionally, grieving employees need their loss acknowledged. It might feel awkward to bring it up, but make sure you acknowledge your colleague’s loss. You shouldn’t force a conversation but give your condolences and check in with them every once in a while. It can feel lonely when it seems like others have forgotten about your loss soon after it happens. Not only is it lonely, but it can feel cold and the employee may be more likely to think their team and company isn’t very supportive. Again, this is something everyone can do to help the grieving employee. Acknowledge their loss and their pain.
And, finally, employees experiencing a loss need emotional support. This is similar to the last one but a step deeper. Grieving employees feel supported when their colleagues and leaders express empathy and compassion for their grief. Emotional support also includes giving employees the space to talk about their loss. Employees feel supported when they know others genuinely care about how they are doing and give them avenues to share their experience.
Overall, this research has some fairly straight forward takeaways that companies, leaders, and co-workers can easily implement to help support those dealing with a loss. Communicate clearly, accommodate their needs, recognize the loss, and provide emotional support! We are so excited to see this type of research getting done right now and encourage you to implement these simple tactics next time someone is grieving.