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GUEST BLOG: 5 ways to support the mental health of bereaved employees

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Posted by Gemma Bullivant on 23 June 2022

GUEST BLOG: 5 ways to support the mental health of bereaved employees

Wellbeing | Mental Health

Grief is challenging for employers. Everyone experiences it differently, there’s no time limit on how long it will last and grief can have a major impact on people’s lives and mental health.

Nevertheless, organisations can still develop ways to support employees who are experiencing grief and loss.

1. You need more than a policy
Recent research from CIPD found that only 54% of employees were aware their employer had a bereavement policy. A bereavement support framework goes further, providing clear integrated support over the longer term. Together, these provide clarity to your team about what is expected and what the business will provide, both short-term and as part of longer-term mental health and wellbeing support.

Bear in mind that while some aspects of your approach can be standardised, there needs to be built-in flexibility to enable managers to respond in a way that fits individual circumstances.

Grief does not have a timeline – everyone responds differently. Some recover quickly, others take longer. Some may want extended leave, others may prefer to return to work as soon as possible. Some will want to discuss how they’re feeling and others prefer to grieve privately.

But most grievers follow a similar pattern of needs – critical support immediately after the loss, transition support to return to work, ongoing mental health and wellbeing support and management skills to support sensitively.  Think about your framework in relation to these areas.

Once you have a policy, make sure it’s accessible to all employees. It’s a good idea to highlight it to your teams alongside employee assistance programmes (EAPs) and any wellbeing and mental health offerings.

2. Provide crisis support
In the days and weeks after a bereavement, employees are likely to need direct, unconditional support as they grapple with the immediate logistics of their lives. At this time, paid bereavement leave is vital.

Managers should stay in touch sensitively, listen to what the employee needs and offer a list of external support options such as bereavement counselling, bearing in mind that not every griever needs counselling.

3. Plan the transition back to work
As the employee prepares to return to work, provide transition support. Bereavement coaching sessions with the griever can be valuable and remember to offer training and support for the manager and colleagues, too.

Managers need to be clear about how the workload can be managed and redistributed. Be prepared for a potential phased return to work if necessary.

4. The need for ongoing support
The impact of grief is typically felt months or years later, so it’s essential to provide longer-term employee well-being support, too. Work on developing safe, supportive workplace culture and encourage regular conversations to modify and adjust the support in place.

Is wellbeing a clear priority in your workplace? Do people feel comfortable talking about mental health? If so, this is a positive step towards developing a supportive environment for recently bereaved employees.

Remember that not everyone will want to share what they are going through. It’s important to respect their privacy and maintain confidentiality.

5. Ensure managers have the right skills
Managers play an essential role in supporting employees through bereavement, but some leaders may find it difficult. Providing expert input and training to managers is recommended: even a single coaching session for a manager can provide practical tips to help them to navigate sensitive conversations.

Do your managers know:

  • How to make clear decisions on redistributing workload?
  • How to communicate sensitively?
  • Where the employee you access external support, such as bereavement coaching or EAP counselling?
  • Whether it’s safe for an employee to be at work? Do they need to conduct a risk assessment?

While grief might be considered an HR matter in some organisations, the reality is that managers need to be skilled and prepared to navigate the conversations and ways to manage the employee sensitively. Consider how this can be included in any management development and wellbeing support training.

Focus on building emotional awareness of bereavement and mental health in management skills training programmes to better equip your managers to offer suitable ongoing support.

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