As we live longer and healthier lives, the age at which people experience a close bereavement is increasing. This means that more of us aren’t experiencing the grief of losing someone close to us until we’re in our late 40s or in our 50s.
What’s the significance of this in the workplace? More line managers will be older before they know what it feels like to go through a bereavement. Even if they have personal experience of loss, it doesn’t mean they will know how to support others as the way we deal with grief can vary from person to person.
Managing those bereaved
I was 50 when my mother died. I had never experienced a close loss before, yet had been managing teams since I was in my late 30s. I feel for the first person I managed who suffered a bereavement. She was a loud, robust character and on reflection, I realise I offered her a minimum amount of support. I was in a pressurised (but enjoyable) job and remained as task focused as usual.
The organisation was going through a transition and it was an even more unsettling time for my colleague. She seemed to be coping, but later I realised that saying ‘I’m not coping very well’ isn’t something that people readily volunteer to their boss. In fact, their boss is quite often the last person an individual will talk to.
Training can help
If we think about management training, dealing with difficult people, communicating effectively, techniques for motivating staff are obvious topics to cover. I know well-being is becoming more prominent (though I suspect it is still regarded by some as a fringe, almost New Age consideration), but the reality is that there is a huge gap in our training around bereavement. Death is too taboo to approach and yet, on average, 13,000 people die in the UK every week.
Even though, as experienced managers, we know that life experiences affect the way our team members work, whether it be the birth of a new child, the break up of a relationship or the death of a family member, very few of us will ever receive formal training on getting the best out of our staff at a time of the most usual of life’s experiences.
There is very little out there that helps managers to support the bereaved if they’ve had no experience of loss themselves.
Here are a few tips
- Ensure you have a bereavement policy
- Ensure that you have details of support organisations to hand
- Have a flexible approach to the return to work
See our Managing People Section or consider our Managing the Impact of Grief in The Workplace Workshops to find out more.
Long term process
Remember that grief is experienced over the long term and that people’s behaviour will fluctuate, having good and bad days. Be prepared to support your colleagues in the long term and bear in mind that just because people appear to be coping, that it doesn’t mean they actually are.