Grief Awareness Day: How managers can support staff post-Covid (Dr Abbas, Unum)

Over the past few months, thousands of individuals have suffered the loss of loved ones due to Covid-19. Typically, it’s estimated that 1-in-10 employees is affected by bereavement at any one time1. But with over 46,000 lives already lost to Coronavirus this year2, it’s likely that more employees than usual will be coping with grief. Broaching the subject of death can be difficult for both employer and employee, but the right support at work can be a great help to someone dealing with the loss of a loved one.

Here, Dr Syed Zakir Abbas, Unum’s Chief Medical Officer offers 7 ways employers can help manage grief and bereavement in the post-Covid workplace:

  1. Acknowledge the impact of death

Grieving can severely impact both the physical and mental health of employees, seriously affecting productivity, and morale across the whole organisation. How employers support people who have lost loved ones reveals their level of understanding and empathy and demonstrates their true commitment and attitude towards employee wellbeing.

  1. Recognise anticipatory grief

With so many people separated from friends and family for so long, worries about anyone who is frail or has underlying health conditions have been magnified. This fear – anticipating what might be to come – may be causing a rise in anticipatory grief, where people experience all the same feelings following a death even before it happens. Employers should acknowledge the condition and ensure all employees know how to access bereavement support.

  1. Get a bereavement policy in place

Today, having a bereavement policy is vital. When dealing with bereavement and grief, employers need to have the 3 Cs in mind – Communication, Compassion and Connection. Creating a framework for managers, giving them the support and guidance is crucial for dealing with this sensitive topic, and ensures that everyone is treated equally.

     4. Communicate

Acknowledging the loss and offering condolences is vital to show employees that they are not alone, and that support is there when they need it. Talking to an employee to see how much time they need off, what reasonable adjustments can be made to help them stay productive and engaged with their work, and what support would be suitable is essential.

  1. Show compassion

Given certain social restrictions in place, it’s likely some individuals have been unable to say a proper goodbye or have the funeral they’d want under normal circumstances. The most important asset to any organisation is its employees, so compassion, understanding and empathy must be enshrined in any bereavement policy.

  1. Point staff to the EAP

Organisations may have an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) which can provide bereavement support as well as ensuring individuals can manage their grief alongside pressures of work. There are also charities, such as Cruse Bereavement Care and Child Bereavement UK that can offer expert advice and guidance, particularly aimed at employers and employees.

  1. Make the workplace safe for grief

While Covid-19 has thrown up many challenges to employers, death, bereavement, and grief have been issues that have often been side-lined and not effectively addressed, leaving employees to live with their grief in silence. Now’s the time to change that mindset and encourage a much more vocal, visible, and human response to something that is a natural and inevitable part of life.