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  • Anna Harrington

Be there in the right way - grief and employer

Updated: Dec 11, 2020


Every one of us will experience grief. If you are an employer you will at some point have an employee who is trying to cope with the death of a loved one whilst trying to work.

You see, the length of time given by employer for bereavement leave varies from a few days which is nothing, no time what so ever to allow the person to grieve, to being flexible according to the circumstances.


Grief is overwhelming and can be bit of a nuisance. It is not defined by time and will affect an employee’s ability to work. Not only that, grief can creep up and engulf at really unpredictable times. You cannot plan time periods to manage grief; it manages you ……for a while.

Grief triggers physical brain changes that disrupt to our normal way of being and has effects on being able to work.


· Concentration

· Memory

· Motivation

· Emotion regulation

· Processing complex data

· Decision making

· Physical and emotional stamina

· Confidence

are all impacted.


These impacts may be seen in work performance for instance the individual-


· Not able to complete the same volume of work

· Not able to do the same level of complexity of work

· Finding that work is more challenging, more difficult to cope with

· Having emotional breakdowns such as tearfulness and outbursts

· Making errors

· Forgetting to follow process

· Lower levels of quality work


So, what can you as an employer do?





Listen with empathy


One of the most important ones for you and colleagues, is to listen. Listening takes time, physical or actual time. To truly listen, time needs to be set aside. You need to fully engage your senses; your hearing, your vision and your emotional instinct towards the person. This demands calmness and quiet. Often awkward feelings in the listener can occur such as embarrassment at silence, frustration with not being able to resolve the problem, worry about saying the wrong thing.

Saying the wrong thing does happen and the individual may react, becoming distressed. If this occurs just apologise. Don’t let this put you off from continuing to try and offer support through active listening. Remember your role can be to assist the person cope with the powerful and painful emotions.



Flexible working



After a period of bereavement leave it is really common for employee not to be able to return back into work straight away, usually requiring sickness absence from work. The GP is likely to write on to the Fit-note – bereaved or grieving.

It is really important that you keep in touch with the employee whilst they are off sick from work. It can be in time of feeling very isolated and disconnected. Keeping in touch with the individual will help to continue crucial work relationships. However, this contact must reflect what the employee desires. I suggest that you discuss with the individual who they would like to remain in contact with, the frequency of contact and content. I recommend contact centre around their wellbeing rather than talking about what is happening in the workplace. Nevertheless, if the individual is enquiring about work, sensitively responding to these enquiries is entirely appropriate. You are looking to balance satisfying their enquiries and not overwhelming them person or resulting in them feeling an urgency to come back into the work as soon as they possibly can.


Return to work will occur with grief continuing.


Work whilst grieving can assist coping, allowing periods of distraction, social contact, meaning and purpose.


Offer flexible hours; working less hours than usual and at times the take into consideration the employee.


Adjust work content. You are looking for the person to be effective and uplifted by work. Take into consideration what they enjoy and find difficult, making appropriate adjustments.


Feedback is essential for all with or without mental distress. For a person who is grieving giving regular boosting feedback will contribute to them feeling a valued.


Lastly, it is wise to be aware that at certain times of the year the person is likely to feel affected. Usually these are the anniversary of death, birthdays and significant religious events such as Eid, Diwali or Christmas.

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