Grief is something that we don’t generally talk about, and yet at some point in our lives it will affect us all. As a business owner, or an employee, we will also work with someone who is grieving, or be affected by grief ourselves.
Intense sorrow, especially caused by someone’s death, is a very clear definition of grief, but grief is also so much more. There is absolutely no prescribed route that grief follows, and for every person it is extremely different.
Many people grieved for Princess Diana, having never met her, and more recently for Captain Sir Tom Moore. Quite possibly this is hard for some people to understand, but that is exactly what happens with grief. There isn’t always a rhyme or reason for the intensity of grief, or for the moment in time when it hits.
Equally, it would be easy to imagine that losing a parent or partner would instil intense grief, but relationships are different for everyone, and therefore sometimes death can be a relief. We also know that some people wear their emotion on their sleeve, others rarely shed a tear.
All of this makes handling grief in the workplace rather like walking through a minefield. There are some key things to know. Firstly, there is a law that you need to be aware of. Section 57(A) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 gives a “day one” right for an employee to have ‘reasonable’ time off work to deal with an emergency, such as a bereavement involving a dependant. The Equality Act 2010 protects employees with protected characteristics from unlawful discrimination. More details of these, and much, much more, can be found in the brilliant acas guidance “Time off for Bereavement”.
There is a huge list of Do’s, and some very important Don’ts, when an employee tells you that they have been bereaved. Cruse Bereavement Care have a comprehensive list available to download. It covers all of these points perfectly, and is definitely worth reading.
My advice is to take a moment. Try to put yourself in their shoes, and however hard it is, ignore the fact that your business is going to be impacted by this. It goes without saying that there will be an impact on your business. Any employee needing time off, or support, will have an affect on the business, but at that moment in time the most important thing to remember is that your employee just needs you to handle this in the right way.
If you have prepared for this correctly, then the wheels will just click into motion. Your employee will already know what the process is, they will have already been involved in training, or conversations in the workplace. Their colleagues will also know what to expect, they will know how best to deal with the situation, and as a result will be ready to support each other, and most importantly you will know exactly what steps you need to take, and the right things to say.
If you work alone then, obviously, the effect bereavement can have on you can be tenfold. Not only are you grieving, have endless paperwork to deal with, family members to support, but you also have your business to run. Managing this can be exhausting, and potentially make you feel like you aren’t able to achieve anything properly. Think about how you manage if you take a holiday, or need time off sick, and the impact this has on your business. Grief and bereavement add another layer entirely to this. If at all possible, take time to prepare. Put plans in place for how you will deal with this, but my strongest advice is to be honest with all those you work with, colleagues and clients alike.
For some people the daily routine of work is important, it helps them to continue with ‘normality’. If this is the case, then fully embrace this, but just be aware that whilst they will think they are giving their all to their job, they more than likely will not be working at full capacity. Monitor this carefully, ensure support is in place if needed, and touch base now and again to see how things are going. Don’t ever be scared of talking about grief and bereavement. Use the name of the person who has died, encourage your employee to talk to you about them.
In the acas guide there are some examples of situations you may have to deal with. The advice in the guide is excellent, in particular working with your employee, or even yourself, to ensure that time off is booked for significant dates, particularly in the first year after a death. If an employee has died, then this will affect your whole business. Make sure you don’t book in meetings, launch dates etc. on a significant date.
The year following a death will be full of dates that have to be ‘survived’. Once those dates have passed, and we know that we can continue with our lives…that we can survive those dates, then things generally become a little bit easier.
Whilst these dates are ones to be aware of, there may be times when, what appear to be the most insignificant things can have the biggest impact. A piece of music, a smell, an accent, a phrase, a shop full of Father’s Day cards, a special offer in a supermarket. All of these things, and many, many more, can be the spark that ignites grief. You will never know when to expect them, you just have to be ready to be there, support gently, and allow that grief to flow.
Grief is a journey that we will all experience at some point in our lives. It will affect us all very differently. You do not stop grieving…you learn to live with your grief. There is no magic formula, you do not ‘get over it’, but with help and support from all those around you, you will find a way to move forward, taking one small step after the other.
For yourself, and your staff, ensure that bereavement training is a part of your employee training package. Take the steps now to put it in place, and the impact on your business will be easier for everyone when it is needed.
We all fear death, and yet it is inevitable. By providing the tools to deal with bereavement, by showing that you understand and care, by allowing your workplace to be one where death is not a taboo subject, you will help to ensure that the fear of the unknown is reduced for yourself, and for your staff, and that when that phone call has to be made, and received, it will be done so with a slightly lighter heart.