Covid-19: Brief Tips on How to Support Bereaved Staff
Sadly many of us may find ourselves in a position of having to support a member of staff whose loved one has died because of Covid-19. As if coping with bereavement isn’t hard enough, these people may now face the extra burden of a lack of social interaction. Many of them will be working remotely or have even been furloughed. Some may be vulnerable and in self isolation, so what can you do as a line manager or organisation to support them?
Firstly, ensure they know where they can go for support
Don’t just rely on Employee Assistance Programmes as these often don’t go far enough. Make sure that your staff have access to specialist bereavement support such as through Grief Chat, Cruse Bereavement or through a private counsellor via the British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists or through a free service via their GP.
In the early stages they are likely to be in shock and may not be able to process information; keep your initial conversation brief, offer your condolences, ask if there is anything specific you can help with.
Have some answers ready for them
They may have questions about how work, the most googled question asked at a time of bereavement is ‘How much time can I have off?’, so make sure you know what your policy is, what their entitlements are, and where you may have some flexibility in what you can offer (bear in mind that if the bereavement involves the loss of a child then parents are automatically allowed 2 weeks paid leave by law).
Be prepared for out of character behaviour
Bear in mind that bereavement is literally a traumatic experience and that our normal response to trauma is shock, often followed by a period of altered behaviour. The bereaved person may be erratic, they may be distracted and unable to focus, they may disengage from work completely and even go so far as to hand in their notice.
With any resignation that comes out of the blue, the first response should always be to invite the employee to take a few days to consider if this is really what they want to do. If it transpires that what they are actually trying to get is a break from work then consider your options, you might be able to offer a sabbatical, using compassionate leave and annual leave, using some unpaid leave or looking at amending hours or duties for a period of time.
Plan structure and support
After they choose to return to work, it will be absolutely essential to ensure that they have a structured workload and access to ongoing support. Stay in regular contact with the individual to tailor the work according to their requirements, perhaps on a weekly basis. Discuss together what works best for the individual and be prepared to change this as they move through their own response to grief.
Know your employee’s context
Consider the personal circumstances regarding the individual. Have they people living with them or are they alone? How much support are they getting from external sources? What degree of social contact does work account for in their lives? Is there someone in the team they can talk to if needs be? If not is there someone in the organisation, other than their line manager, that can help if they need a listening ear?
Because the nature of grief changes, sometimes many times a day, and grief is prolonged, stay vigilant to signs that the individual isn’t coping. You may experience changes in consistency regarding the individual’s motivation and productivity.
Grief fundamentally alters our perspective on life, and the impact of this can deeply affect our ability to operate effectively in our chosen careers. As the individual adjusts to their loss and when they have been back in the workplace for a while, e.g. 3 to 6 months, consider using an external coach if you notice that they are finding it difficult to deliver as they would have previously.
You don’t have to do this by yourself
Covid-19 is going to be an issue that will be present for some time, and it’s likely that we will continue to hear about it through the media for while yet, making it impossible for those affected to escape the coverage and process their own grief privately. We’re all affected as a Nation and World, but those who lose their loved ones will be impacted for years to come and will need supportive and understanding line managers who will see them through an extremely tough time and who’ll stick with them for the long haul.
As a line manager you need to remember that you are not solely responsible for helping the individual in the work place, do you have mental health specialists who can provide support? If not consider external sources. The impact on the wider team is likely to be heightened while we are all in this period of uncertainty. Make sure there are opportunities for them to air their fears and consider virtual group activities such as mindfulness or exercise activities to help people feel connected and to have a social element to working.
Think about what support you need too, don’t be tempted to carry everything.
If you think we can help, talk to Sue on 07867 500666 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org