A key focus of my blog is Health and Wellness. While employers seek to get the maximum productivity out of their employees, it’s also important to take care of workers as much as possible. A key time when employees need flexibility from their employers is during bereavement. The following contributed post is therefore entitled, Tips For Employers: Employee Bereavement.
* * *
When business owners think about the need to manage their employees and provide assistance wherever possible, they – quite naturally – tend to focus on matters related to the workplace. However, as time passes, most business owners will come to realize that employee management extends far beyond the basics of the work itself.
Perhaps most challengingly of all, most employers will at some point find themselves needing to manage an employee who has recently been bereaved. Given that death is such a sensitive subject, and everyone reacts to the topic differently, managing such a scenario can feel almost impossible.
However, there is one, simple way to manage employee bereavement as effectively as possible: let the employee dictate what happens next.
What does this mean?
As we touched on above, everyone grieves differently. Some people will actively want to immerse themselves in work, seeing it as a welcome distraction. Others will find work burdensome and difficult to cope with when grieving, and would thus prefer their workload to be reduced.
Essentially, there is no blanket “managing an employee who is grieving” policy that you can apply to your company. Instead, you have to manage each case on an ad-hoc basis.
How can this be achieved?
Most business owners will discover the sad news that an employee has been bereaved through direct communication, often in conjunction with a request for time off. It is often tempting to just reply to this communication with agreement, and a few kind words.
However, the first communication is your opportunity to ask for more information. You can gently ask how they are doing, and – most importantly – what they need from your company over the next few weeks. Do they only want to take a day off work for the funeral, and otherwise continue as normal? Or do they need more time off, perhaps due to having to go through probate, speak with the likes of Winer, McKenna, Burritt & Tillis regarding legal proceedings, or arrange a house clearance? The latter point is particularly important: bereavement is often a complicated process in terms of simple bureaucracy as well as the emotional impact, but your employee may feel they cannot request time off to deal with these matters, so you have to extend the offer instead.
Ensure that your employee knows they can take the time they need; it’s the right thing to do, and it’s better for your company; after all, a distracted employee who is juggling a lengthy probate case is unlikely to be at their most efficient. By ensuring your employee has adequate time off, the return-to-work process should be simpler for both of you.
How should return-to-work be managed?
Whether your employee has taken a day off or an entire month, you’ll still need to manage the return-to-work process. The best way to approach this is to take each day as it comes. Spend a little time with the employee each day just asking how they are and if there is anything they need, but trust their response: if they say they’re fine to continue as normal, believe them, even if you suspect otherwise. Grief is different for everyone, so all you can do is let each employee be your guide while ensuring they know that you will provide any assistance should it be required.
Managing a bereaved employee is undoubtedly difficult, but by ensuring you provide opportunities for employees to ask for more time off, and allowing the employee to judge their preferred workflow after returning to work, the process should be as smooth as it possibly can be.