How to support a bereaved person at work
Fewer than one in five managers feel very confident supporting someone they manage with a bereavement.
We asked Helen, our Head of Education, to share her three key things to think about when supporting a colleague after a bereavement.
“The death of a loved one is incredibly difficult and the grief that follows affects everyone differently. It’s important to remember that grief doesn’t just disappear once they leave their house, and that at work or in public a bereaved person will still feel grief, even when they don’t show it. This is why it’s important that we as managers, colleagues and friends know how to support a bereaved person at work.
Let them know they are not alone
When someone who has been bereaved returns to work, you might feel afraid about how to should handle the situation. You may be thinking “Should I mention it?” “What should I say?”. Being worried about how to approach the person can lead to them feeling isolated and that nobody cares, when people are being cautious around them to avoid upsetting them. It’s better to let them know you are thinking of them, and to treat them as normal.
Just checking in on them and letting them know that they are cared about and can always reach out for support is helpful. It doesn’t have to be a big conversation or question, just the odd sentence or even a text works and if they want to have a more in-depth conversation then let them. Some suggestions could be, “I’m so sorry to hear about your loss. I’m here if you need anything.” “We’ve all been thinking of you, we are so sorry to hear about Peter.” “I know you’ve come into work today so just checking in on how you are- if you need a coffee and chat then just let me know.”
Everyone handles grief differently, some will want to talk about it openly while others will want to distract themselves with work. It’s important to understand what that person wants, as a manager it’s good to be able to ask them this so you can know how to communicate with them and let others in the team know how the person would like to be treated. Some people might just like to hear you talk about other things in your life and work, as they might have been fully consumed with caring for or thinking about their loved one.
How a person would like to be communicated with is important to know to be able best support them in the workplace. Some people may be open about how they want to handle it while others will be more private, it is important that you ask them to make sure you can make them feel cared for and supported. Grief can ebb and flow over time, so be aware that someone may feel tearful one day and then ok for a few days.
Returning to work after a bereavement can feel daunting and scary. Feeling like everyone is watching you or being overly compassionate can be too much for a person and they may change their mind and want more time off. It is important as a manager to be patient and allow them the time they need. It can help to offer more flexibility, allowing the person to work from home some days or shorten their hours for a limited time to help them slowly feel able to return to work again.
It is also important to remember that after a death, there are many things that a loved one will have to do such as registering the death and planning the funeral. These can retrigger the grief they were feeling and the person may feel too emotional to be able to work. Being patient and understanding of the person’s emotional state is important to helping them feel supported when they come back through the doors of their workplace.”