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10 ways you can support grieving employees

Losing a loved one can be one of the most difficult and emotionally trying experiences a person can go through. The pandemic has brought this topic to the forefront with some 72 percent of Americans saying they know someone who has been hospitalized or died from COVID-19. And each of these deaths affects, on average, nine people, according to one study. All of this data suggesting a “bereavement burden” that could touch more than 6.6 million people.

With grief and bereavement as such a growing topic and industry for new professions, we wanted to put together ways folks in the workplace could also help support one another through this hardship.

For employers

As an employer, it is important to provide bereavement benefits that support and show care for your employees as they navigate this difficult time. Here are some options for bereavement benefits that companies can offer to employees who are grieving the loss of a loved one:

  1. Time off: Employees should be given paid or unpaid time off from work to grieve. Some companies may have a set amount of time for bereavement leave, while others may offer flexible arrangements that are tailored to the employee's needs. Keep in mind that laws such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in the United States, mandate certain bereavement leaves for employees. According to research conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 88% of businesses offer paid bereavement leave.
  2. Counseling or therapy services: It's essential for employees to have access to counseling or therapy services, either in-house or through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), to help them cope with the emotional stress of grief. These services can provide employees with the necessary tools to process their emotions, and help them to return to work in a healthy and productive manner.
  3. Assistance with funeral arrangements: Companies can offer assistance with funeral arrangements, such as paying for expenses or coordinating bereavement leave for multiple employees who need to attend the same funeral, that can greatly ease the burden for employees during this time.
  4. Additional compensation: Employers may provide additional compensation, such as a death benefit, to the employee or their family. For example, some companies may pay a certain amount of money for funeral expenses. This can be an important gesture to show your employees that they are supported and valued during this time.
  5. Flexible work arrangements: Companies can also be flexible with employees' work arrangements, such as allowing employees to work from home or adjusting their schedule, to help them through the grieving process. Allowing employees to have the autonomy to adjust their schedule, or work remotely, can help them maintain a sense of normalcy, and can allow them to take care of themselves and their loved ones during this difficult time.

Grief can manifest in different ways, and can be unpredictable, potentially triggering depression, anxiety, and fatigue. Offering a range of bereavement benefits can help ensure that your employees have the support they need.  According to the NSC, 85% of employees have reported experiencing grief in the workplace, and most have reported that it had a negative effect on their work performance. That's why providing bereavement benefits is not just a legal requirement or a simple goodwill gesture, it's an important aspect of taking care of employee's well-being, and supporting them through difficult times.

For colleagues

When a colleague is going through the process of grieving the loss of a loved one, it can be difficult to know how to best support them. Here are some ways that coworkers can provide support to a grieving colleague:

  1. Express sympathy and offer condolences: Acknowledge the loss and express empathy. Let them know that you care and that you're there for them. Showing your support and understanding will be of great value during this difficult time. According to a study by the American Psychological Association, social support is positively associated with better emotional and physical health outcomes among bereaved individuals.
  2. Be present and check in with them: Grief can be a long and lonely process, and your colleague may need someone to talk to or simply be there for them. You can check in with them, ask how they're doing, and let them know that you're thinking of them. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, approximately 20% of people who experience the loss of a loved one through death will suffer from complicated grief, which can include symptoms such as isolation and difficulty functioning.
  3. Offer to help with tasks: Grief can be overwhelming, and your colleague may find it difficult to keep up with their normal workload. You can offer to help with tasks, or take on some of their responsibilities, so that they can take the time they need to grieve. According to the American Hospice Foundation, those who grieve often experience fatigue, depression, and difficulty concentrating, which can impact their ability to complete work-related tasks.
  4. Be respectful of their privacy: Everyone processes grief in different ways, and your colleague may not want to talk about their loss or express their emotions openly. Respect their boundaries, and don't pressure them to talk if they're not ready.
  5. Recognize their milestones and important dates: Grief can be triggered by anniversaries and important dates, such as birthdays or the anniversary of the death. Be mindful of these dates and acknowledge them, let them know you are thinking of them.

Grief is a unique and personal experience, and that there's no one "right" way to support someone who is grieving. Being there, showing empathy and understanding and providing support can make all the difference. Let your colleague know that they are not alone in this difficult time, and that they have the support of their colleagues.

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Breena Fain
Breena Fain

Breena is a writer, certified death doula, and co-founder at Addio based in San Francisco. She leads Addio's content efforts and helps families navigate their end-of-life plan. In her free time, you can find her at the piano, on the beach with her dog, eating her weight in sourdough bread, and volunteering at a local SF hospice facility. (She's also who runs all our social media accounts so be sure to say hello!)

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Should you create an online will or use an attorney?

If you're weighing the pros and cons of doing it online versus going through an attorney, let us break it down.

Take the quiz