5 Ways Businesses Can Support Grieving Employees
A great business should be supportive of employees, offering flexibility and understanding as much as possible. That goes for if someone has to take time off for a medical procedure, to care for a sick child, or to heal from grief and manage a loss.
Whoever said that business isn't personal, after all, was dead wrong; while professional boundaries should always be maintained, employees need to feel supported and cared about. That's particularly true when you have employees who have experienced a death of a loved one.
Grieving employees have a lot to worry about. They're dealing with grief itself, which is a devastating experience, and may be adapting to changes in their routine like needing to take over duties a recently-passed spouse had handled before. Even managing things like estate sales, selling the home of a deceased parent, or closing out credit card counts is exhausting and takes up a significant amount of time.
Many businesses don't know what to do to support grieving employees, so they do nothing. This can be a mistake, because if employees don't feel cared about, it can lower their job satisfaction and overall loyalty to their employer. If they don't feel valued, employees are 34% more likely to start the search for a new job.
If, on the other hand, you go out of your way to help them get through this hard time, you're likely to see a huge spike in loyalty that will reduce employee churn rates.
So when one of your employees is grieving a loss, it's often good to do more than simply tolerate the mandated FMLA time off while caring for a declining family member. Go a step further, showing that you care. This will boost employee satisfaction, which is immediately tied to higher retention rates.
Let's take a look at five easy but meaningful ways you can support grieving employees after a loss.
1. Make It Clear That Time Off Isn’t Held Against Them
Your staff is automatically granted job protection while they take time off to care for a family member in poor health. That job protection technically ends when a death has occurred; time off for grieving isn't protected.
Give your staff the time they need to grieve and to handle anything that needs to be taken care of. While some employees will want to be back at work the next day, many just aren't ready, and it doesn't do much good to force people back when they're not ready. If someone isn't ready, they won't be able to work even if they want to, and they're actually more like to make mistakes on the job.
If possible, offer extended time off if needed, even the employee doesn't have any vacation or personal days left. Everyone should be able to grieve in peace.
You should always make it clear that any time off isn't held against them, and that you care about them and their job will be there when they get back. If someone feels like they're losing respect at work while dealing with the death of a person they loved, they'll likely start their job search soon.
2. Send a Gift & Card
A gift and card is a great way to take an extra step to show that your business and your team care about the grieving employee. A card should always have a personalized message that's handwritten, ideally by the employee's direct supervisor or someone they work with regularly.
And when it comes to the gift, play it safe. Pick something that you know that they'd like, like a gift certificate for a favorite restaurant or to a spa you know they enjoy.
If you aren't sure what to get, stay away from food or flowers in case allergies are a concern. Here are a few ideas to consider:
- Companies or employees who care about eco-friendly and sustainable products might love something like an "in memory of" tree that can be planted and grow over time.
- If you know that the employee has a home or loves to garden, a garden decoration might be well-received.
- Gifts like blankets or candles with empathetic messages are safe bets across the board.
3. Offer Mental Health Services As an Employee Benefit
While many employers are required to offer health insurance to full-time employees, mental health is often overlooked even though it matters just as much to an employee's well-being as physical health. As a result, your team could easily end up with insurance that doesn't offer adequate mental health support.
Make sure that you offer strong health benefits that include mental health services if at all possible. Even if you can only afford a plan that offers limited mental health services (like only having ten free sessions), that's still a great start.
When an employee experiences the death of a loved one, you can gently remind them that their insurance covers therapy. They might not know that their benefits include this.
To do this delicately, you can say something like the following:
"I'm so, so sorry to hear about the passing of your mother. Please take the time you need, and let us know if there's something we can do to make this easier. Just so you're aware, some of our staff have found it helpful to take advantage of the counseling available through their insurance after a loss. Grief counseling and support groups are also available. Feel free to reach out to HR if you have any questions."
5. Check In & Offer Practical Support
If you're a larger business, have the employee's team leader or direct supervisor reach out and see what support they need.
Are they overwhelmed with everything? Offer to pick up a grocery list, and have the team divvy up the cost so that it's one less thing your coworker needs to worry about and pay for. You can drop it off outside their door, or, if social isolation isn't a concern at the time, you can check in on the employee if they want company when you drop it off.
Asking what the employee needs is typically a good call, because they might need something you haven't thought of. Maybe they'll say they're having trouble walking their dogs, which used to be their partner's job; you can offer to hire a dog walking service to help them out. If they are worried about the funeral, see if your team can pitch in to help cover some of the costs.
5. Be Patient As They Return to Work
Even after the employee has had some time off to mourn, plan a funeral, and start to put the pieces of their life back together, they're likely nowhere near done grieving. This is important to remember, because many people who lose a loved one struggle for an extended period of time.
Be patient with them, and know that they may not be on their game once they come back, even if they were one of your top performers beforehand. It's natural to be distracted, exhausted, and sleep-deprived when grieving, which can absolutely impact their work. They might also need to be handling the practical side of things (yep, during work hours), which can make this even more challenging.
Be prepared for distractions, and be careful not to overload them with too many responsibilities. Delegate any necessary tasks to other team members temporarily, and let the team member know you just want to give them time.
When your employee loses someone they love, the last thing they should be worried about is how it might hurt their career. Going out of your way to reassure your employee that their job is safe, that they're valued, and that you care is not only the right thing to do, but a great move to increase employee satisfaction rates.
Loyalty isn't something that your business is automatically owed; it's something that's earned. And when someone is going through one of the hardest periods of their life, that's your chance to step up.
Are you looking for a gift to express sympathy to an employee who recently experienced a loss? Take a look at the memorial gifts we offer here.