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15 Helpful Ways To Support Employees in Bereavement Leave

Grieving the loss of a loved one takes time and care. Here you can learn how managers and team members can support you in this process.
15 Helpful Ways To Support Employees in Bereavement Leave

Grieving the loss of a loved one takes time and care. Employees who take a few days off to make arrangements and attend services will still be tending to their grief when they return to the office. As a leader, you have to learn how to support your team members as they deal with difficult losses, especially during a global pandemic when many lives are being lost each day.

That’s why we asked members of Forbes Coaches Council to tell us how leaders can best support team members who are dealing with grief. Here’s what they suggest you do to truly “be there” for your employees after they return to work from bereavement leave.

1. Get To Know The Elisabeth Kübler-Ross Grief Model

I’d suggest becoming familiar with the Elisabeth Kübler-Ross grief model. Recognize that there will be good days and bad days, and people can wobble back and forth. Be present and just listen to the individual. Allow them opportunities to share memories, should they choose to do so. Allow the person to take time off so that they can take care of themselves emotionally, physically and spiritually. – Christie Cooper, Cooper Consulting Group

2. Pay For Therapy Sessions

If you can afford it, help them pay for a certain number of sessions with a therapist who specializes in loss. Be lenient if they need to take off an hour here and there to go to therapy. You could also help them find resources, such as books and support groups, or assign them a “buddy” in the office who will regularly check in to see how they are doing. – Maria Ines Moran, Action Coach

3. Learn About The Five Stages Of Grief

Leaders need to recognize that their team members will need their support in one way or another, even if they do not express it. Leaders would benefit from learning about the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Leaders would also benefit from understanding that individuals do not go through these stages in a linear way and may go in and out of each stage multiple times. Remember to practice compassion. – Michelle Braden, MSBCoach, LLC

4. Practice Empathy

Instead of rushing to fix, we must learn how to listen, and then just be. Most often, in loss, we think we are being helpful when we tell the person grieving that we are there and ask for them to reach out if they need something. Not only do most people hate to ask for help, but we are also putting the onus on them. Instead, acknowledge the loss and remind them that you’re there with them. That’s empathy. – Jen Croneberger, JLynne Consulting Group

5. Ask Them What They Need

Welcome them back and ask them what they need. Ask them if there is a particular way they want to engage when it comes to their loss. Are they okay with others asking them about it? Do they prefer that everyone just act as if it’s business as usual? Coming back after a bereavement can be awkward without that understanding. – Mike Ambassador Bruny, No More Reasonable Doubt

6. Offer To Listen

Check in with team members who are dealing with bereavement. When doing so, simply offering to listen to anything they wish to share can go a long way toward providing them support. Offering a specific suggestion about how you can be supportive beyond that will open the door for them to reach out as they need. – David Yudis, Potential Selves

7. Adapt To Changing Needs

Remember that grief is not always just an emotional response. There may be physical and mental symptoms as well. People will have different needs as they move through the grief process. Routinely check in with them without focusing on their loss. They will appreciate a slower than normal pace upon return, a gentle tone when being spoken to, as well as understanding and patience as they heal. – Lindsay Miller, Reverie Organizational Development Specialists

8. Be Flexible

Ask them what they need and be flexible. Rather than assume you know what the person needs, ask them. The person may see work as an emotional escape. Others may have a hard time concentrating and need some slack, whether that is a reduced workload or more time to complete work. Some people may want to talk. Others may need time off. Being flexible will go a long way toward supporting the person. – Julie Kantor, PhD, JP Kantor Consulting

9. Develop Situational Awareness

Grief is a process that takes time, and people handle it differently. Support your team members with empathy and situational awareness. And do not try to be their therapist or friend. When my mother died (I was 28), my managers let me continue to work, but they knew that I was not at my best. When I was upset, they supported me; but when I was not, they supported my focus on work. – Bill Berman, Ph.D., ABPP, Berman Leadership Development

10. Be Real

Don’t avoid the person. Don’t dance around the reality of the situation. Be compassionate and up front with the person to see how they are doing. Ask if they need support. Check back in every so often. Be authentic. – Dan Messinger, Cream of the Crop Leaders

11. Help Them Navigate Sources Of Support

Listen and try to offer the support they need, which might be very different over time. Everyone grieves differently; ask what they need and how you can help. Offer personal support and flexibility. Be prepared to help them navigate other sources of support that would be available to them. And give them the gift of space. – Rebecca Lea Ray, The Conference Board

12. Empathetically Acknowledge The Loss

Empathetically acknowledging a colleague’s loss is vital. Even if you will not see them in person, you can do this by a phone call or a message. Ensure that you offer your time, space and an empathetic ear. Even if this offer is not taken up, it will provide reassurance and comfort that support from colleagues is there and available. – Simi Rayat, Wellbeing Face Ltd

13. Don’t Take Any Behavior Personally

Begin by connecting with genuine care and empathy. Express support by being aware, checking in and offering a private and peaceful moment to share. As they journey through their grief, do not take any of their behavior personally, nor allow their behavior to negatively define them. Once resiliency is restored, engagement returns, and most often, a newfound motivation and drive leads the way. – Lori Harris, Harris Whitesell Consulting

14. Accept Emotions As They Are

Let them acknowledge feelings. Sadness is normal and can even be healthy. Research has shown that it is essential for mental well-being to have mixed and negative feelings. People who apologize for their feelings or suppress them actually intensify these negative feelings. Try to acknowledge emotions without judging. Accept emotions as they are instead. This helps you to cope with them. – Cristian Hofmann, Empowering Executives | SUPERGROUP LTD

15. Provide Space And Psychological Safety

Listen with a compassionate ear. This is not a time to address or resolve any of the emotions or thinking your employee is processing. Provide the space for them to grieve and the psychological safety to express themselves, and then support them with resources as appropriate. – Sheila Carmichael, Transitions D2D, LLC

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