Managing grief in the workplace
Tips from Julia Samuel, author of Grief Works
In response to our latest research, which looks into the pressures people feel when returning to work following a bereavement, Julia Samuel MBE, Psychotherapist and author of Grief Works has produced some tips for employers on managing grief in the workplace:
About Julia Samuel
Julia Samuel is a psychotherapist specialising in grief, who has spent the last twenty-five years working with bereaved families. She has worked both in private practice and in the NHS at St Mary’s Hospital Paddington where she pioneered the role of maternity and paediatric psychotherapist.
In 1994 she worked to launch and establish Child Bereavement UK as its Founder Patron, where she continues to play a central role. Julia was awarded an MBE in the 2015 New Year’s Honours list for services to bereaved children.
Grief Works is her first book. It is a compassionate guide that will support, inform and engage anyone who is grieving, from the ‘expected’ death of a parent to the sudden and unexpected death of a small child, and provides clear advice for those seeking to comfort the bereaved.
Tips on managing grief in the workplace:
Death is the last great taboo, and its consequence, grief, is profoundly misunderstood. It is too frightening, even alien, for many of us, to find the words to voice it. That silence leads to ignorance, which means we often don't know how to respond to grief in others, let alone ourselves. New research shows, this is as true at work, as it is in homes throughout the country.
The workplace has a key part to play in the recovery process for anyone who is bereaved, it can create structure at a time of chaos, distraction from the pain of loss and a place where their sense of powerlessness is diminished by the very act of work. The environment employers create for the bereaved has the potential to enhance that, but the research highlights it is often failing.
If employers had a basic understanding of grief, it would enable them to respond to their employees confidently and effectively which would make an enormous difference, with bottom line benefits of less sickness and less staff turnover – for a small output.
The actions for an employer to consider are:
- Talk to your employee and acknowledge their loss sensitively and with compassion
- Ask your employee how much and what they want their colleagues to be told, or do they want to write an email directly themselves
- Discuss possible options for coming back to work, for example:
- Coming in to see the team to get that hurdle crossed
- Agree a few shorter days ahead of coming back full time
- Negotiate until the employee can work full time
- Everyone is different, don’t assume you know what they need, ask
- When someone is bereaved their capacity to retain information and do tasks is diminished, so be supportive and make allowances
- The Line Manager should have regular updates to be both supportive and in touch with their bereaved employees issues
- Be sensitive to particular times of year, like holidays and anniversaries