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Life After Bereavement Leave: 14 Ways To Support Grieving Employees

Expert Panel, Forbes Coaches Council

Forbes Source:

The loss of a family member or friend can happen to anyone. Sometimes you're prepared for it; other times, it's sudden and jarring. Regardless of circumstances, everyone needs time and space to grieve after the death of a loved one.

It's easy to grant an employee a few days of bereavement leave to attend services and take care of estate planning. But what happens when your grieving worker returns?

Their pain and sorrow won't magically disappear just because they're back in the office. You'll want to extend a little extra kindness and consideration to that person as they move through the stages of grief.

1. Allow Them To Make Mistakes

Although your employee may appear fine, there may be times when their performance takes a dip, their energy is low, or they say the wrong thing in a meeting. Everyone grieves differently, and your employee may not follow an expected pattern after their return to work. Give them extra forgiveness for mistakes and simply being "off." Your empathy and patience will go a long way during this tough time. - Loren MargolisTraining & Leadership Success LLC 

2. Initiate Communication And An Open Door

When employees come back from bereavement leave, they are working to resume a "normal" life rhythm, but life is anything but normal. Make extra effort to invite them to talk if so inclined. Don't try to "fix" them or give advice; simply offer a space to be present with them. Even if they never take you up on the offer, they will know that their boss cares as much about them as their productivity. - Billy WilliamsArchegos 

3. Be Flexible

Grief is different for everyone. Share information on flexible work schedules, telecommuting or even a part-time status. Demonstrate your commitment to the person first and share your support of working through the process together. There's no time limit on grief, but starting the conversation early helps you adjust. Build trust by sharing options and resources. - Meredith Moore CrosbyLeverette Weekes 

4. Ask Them What They Need

Grief is different for everyone — the experience, the response, the healing. Sometimes a simple acknowledgment can serve as a powerful reminder that one is supported. Don't be afraid to ask, "How can I/we be of support right now? What would that look like?" Offer suggestions, like regular check-ins, flexibility with work hours (as appropriate), temporarily lightening the workload, etc. - Gina GomezGina Gomez, Business & Life Coach

5. Create Systematic Support Program

Companies think they are prepared for this but often they are not. Grieving employees need ongoing support. Work with your HR team to create a program with appropriate boundaries and a written system that provides time, space and services at the employee's disposal over a period of time. Having a plan in place creates less wonder and demonstrates an ongoing commitment to your team. - John M. O'ConnorCareer Pro Inc. 

6. Suggest Grief Counseling

Many people are unaware of the stages of grief, including feelings of denial, depression, sadness, anger, regret, and finally, acceptance. These stages can be tough to navigate for the strongest of people. Seeking help from a professional who is non-biased and non-judgmental can aid in the grief recovery process. If your company covers grief counseling via insurance, that's even better. - Lori MannsQuality Media Consultant Group 

7. Cultivate A Family Culture

Grief manifests in many ways, but being proactive is key for leaders to cultivate a culture of family. In many ways, employees are like family. These are the people with whom you spend the most time nearly every day of the week. Leaders should aim to offer employee assistance, rally behind employees who are initiating relief efforts and keep the lines of communication open with the team(s). - Dr. Shekina Farr MooreEroom Marketing Group 

8. Be Authentic

Having empathy and showing compassion are important when supporting an employee who is grieving, but don't spoil your efforts by using cliché sayings. You can easily be perceived as not being authentic or genuine when you do that, which means you make a bad situation worse. If you are not sure what to say, simply ask how you may be able to help. - Donald HatterDonald Hatter Inc. 

9. Foster Psychological Safety

Whether you're meeting one-on-one or as a group, when you have an employee return to work who's grieving, the best quality you can foster in the culture is psychological safety.  Google People Ops has studied this and suggests that leaders lead by example, sharing authentically the challenges in their own lives, making it psychologically safe for their team members to follow suit. - Kiran GaindThe Connected Family 

10. Create An Opportunity For Impact

Support, empathy, an open door, a shoulder to cry on, and ears for listening all create a humane experience. But grieving can also spark emotions of, "I want to make a difference with the time I have," or, "I want to make ____ proud." You can provide space, time and opportunity; a chance to lead a team, a project, an initiative or solution is a productive way to turn grief into results and impact. - Joanne MarkowGreenMason 

11. Actively Listen

Be present. Listen actively to what is shared and what is not. Ask how to specifically support them as they continue to heal. Communicate with openness and compassion. Acknowledge their strengths as they settle back into their responsibilities. Ultimately, show them in your words and actions that their personhood means more to you and the organization than their work. The rest will truly follow. - Tonyalynne WildhaberThe Courage Practice 

12. Be Respectful, But Stay The Course

Obviously, providing periodic times of privacy, time to handle personal issues, and an outlet to discuss their thoughts (if interested) are all important. However, many grieving employees feel as if their world has been turned upside down. For many, work is an oasis. Business as usual with the above considerations will provide consistency and allow them to focus on making positive contributions. - Dave FechtmanVelocity Advisory Group 

13. Offer Compassion And A Positive Presence

Grief has many faces and will leave an employee with uncertain footing as they process it. When you choose not to ignore the situation in the hopes that it will go away, but rather offer compassion and a positive presence, you can help to stabilize work as a secure environment. All it can take is knowing they are in a safe place where they are valued to further loyalty, trust and performance. - Laura DeCarloCareer Directors international 

14. Don't Ignore Or Avoid Them

People who have experienced a loss aren't contagious. Most times, managers don't know how to approach an employee after they've returned to work. Approach the employee with kindness and compassion. Ask if they need anything (like flex time, etc.). Ignoring their loss and jumping right back into the swing of things may not be what they need at this time. Asking is better than assuming. - Joyel CrawfordCrawford Leadership Strategies 

Article: ©2019 Forbes Media LLC. All Rights Reserved.


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