How to Manage and Help a Grieving Employee?
The death of a parent, sibling, close relative or even a beloved pet can profoundly impact our daily lives. Grieving the loss of a beloved doesn't end overnight; it requires time, care and patience. A primary issue surrounding grief is returning to a sense of normalcy, which includes returning back to work. Studies have associated grief with reduced performance, lack of motivation, and a wide range of physical and mental illnesses. Yet, why isn't grief addressed explicitly at work?
Myths such as: 'Men don't cry, women do'
or: 'the workplace is a reflection of professionalism; it's better to not talk about pain'
are making it difficult to discuss this topic openly.
Additionally, many firms do not fully acknowledge the long-term consequences of grief. Hence, beyond bereavement leaves, today's work culture has no specific standards for managers to help employees deal with grief. This while caring for employees' mental health and well-being could help reduce their challenges during bereavement and make them return earlier and in a better condition.
How can Managers Help Employees Cope with Grief?
- BY UNDERSTANDING THE KÜBLER-ROSS MODEL – The Kübler-Ross theory on death and dying (1969) theorizes the five stages of various emotions (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance) that people go through when faced with death (either themselves or their near ones) and similar events. Although not everyone experiences these stages linearly, knowing this model can help managers understand the need for support among grieving employees, even if they don't explicitly demand it. It can enable them to better communicate and respond to the reactions or experiences the employees are going through at any particular stage.
- BY PROVIDING ROOM TO GRIEVE – Many of us might have heard or experienced our superiors expressing frustration over employees taking sick leaves regardless of the seriousness of the situation. Others restrict bereavement leaves to immediate family members or directly threaten job security of the employee. As a result, sometimes grieving employees are forced to return to work immediately. However, as they say, desperate times call for desperate measures. Managers should allow grieving employees to take paid time off and care for themselves regardless of the relation to the deceased. This reflects a simple act of humanity, considering the countless ways the employee has given back to the company.
- BY HAVING SITUATIONAL AWARENESS – Situational awareness refers to an active and comprehensive assessment of the situation in which an individual lies. It allows one to reflect on the situation's past, present and future potential characteristics. Upon returning from their bereavement leave, managers could talk to the employee to inquire about their health status and needs. It is also recommended to ask whether the employee is fine with others reaching out to them or whether they prefer their colleagues to continue work with normalcy. Furthermore, managers could always extend support to the employees if they need help or an ear to listen to.
- BY PRACTICING EMPATHY – In layman's terms, empathy is the ability to understand how another individual feels, even if we are not experiencing the situation ourselves. Although practicing it sounds easy, not everyone implements it efficiently in real life. Even if managers can't be present in person, they can always empathize with the grieving employee through a message or a phone call. Not everyone finds it easy to ask for support when in grief. During such times, reassuring the employee of your support and understanding could help extensively.
- BY UNDERSTANDING THE CHANGE IN BEHAVIOUR PATTERNS – A return from the bereavement leave does not indicate that the employee will immediately start working with the same enthusiasm as before. It might take them some time to settle themselves and resume their regular work routine. Consequently, mood swings, reduced motivation and performance are bound to be there, at least during the early days of their return. Furthermore, you might observe them to be more irritated or frustrated over little things than ever before. A better way to reduce their stress could be to reduce their workload and provide assistance in every possible way to help them accomplish their targets and deadlines.
- BY OFFERING MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES – Due to the impact of the pandemic, many organizations have taken their employees' mental health and wellness more seriously. As a result, there is a rise in wellness programs and counselling workshops for offering mental support to employees. Managers can check if such opportunities are available in their organization to help make counselling services accessible for grieving employees and/or their families. If no such services are available, superiors could try going the extra mile and recommend such services to be made available.
The above things are the possible ways I could find in which managers can offer support to employees who are dealing with the loss of a loved one or a similar event.
⇒ Let's discuss other steps managers can implement to help their employees cope with grief.
Kübler-Ross, E. (1970). On Death and Dying. Collier Books/Macmillan Publishing Co.
Sarkis, S. (2020, May 25). How to Support Employees Experiencing Grief and Loss. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/stephaniesarkis/2020/05/25/how-to-support-employees-experiencing-grief-and-loss/
Aspan, M. (2020, September 27). 5 better ways to help your employees mourn at the Office. Fortune. Retrieved from https://fortune.com/2020/09/27/coronavirus-mourning-grief-at-work-covid-19/
Dustin Keller, P. D. (2021, August 25). Managing Grief and Loss at Work: A Guide for Employees & Managers. Pathways. Retrieved from https://www.pathways.com/pathways-at-work/blog/grief-at-work