The last year has been hard. Since COVID-19 hit, the discussion around employee wellbeing, mental health and engagement has been front of mind for all my colleagues. Requests for data to benchmark and support what organizations are doing have become the new norm.
For me, the last year was particularly tough. My plans were unexpectedly derailed. I started a new job, in a group role, with a new company and a new industry. My eldest daughter was leaving home and attending University in the UK; my youngest child needed hospital treatment; life was at best chaotic! And then my Dad died suddenly.
A huge hole ripped through our lives. I not only faced a barrage of questions; I had to make decisions about my Dad, my Mum and our family life; I wasn’t ready for any of this. From the massive to the mundane. I struggled to cope; there are days when I still can’t. I would like to call it “bereavement brain”.
I got the message loud and clear from my Company that it “was ok to not be ok” and I felt supported. And relieved. My line manager was there for me, along with some amazing colleagues, who supported me through the worst days.
With this experience still fresh in my mind, there are three recommendations that I feel companies need to consider in supporting employees when dealing with grief:
- Be flexible with Compassionate Leave – the industry standard is between 5 to 10 days. On paper this feels shockingly short when considering the loss of a loved one and the need also to travel overseas during a pandemic. Of course, the days are not enough, and it is not intended to be, so I’d suggest that we reposition this as additional days on top of other leave, including unpaid leave. This leave should be encouraged, taken when needed, no questions asked as and when it matters most.
- Communicate your Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) – if you have one, to the affected employee as soon as you become aware of their bereavement. Ensure that the EAP has resources on bereavement support and counselling. Also highlight any medical benefits on psychological support if they exist. If you do not have EAP and there is no mental health coverage in your medical scheme – then find a way of putting it in place.
- Communicate the support provided proactively and sensitively. Share a message, whether by email or a personal card, from the line manager or a close colleague on behalf of the company. This is always appreciated. Do not assume email will be read and that the employee will feel mentally able to trawl through intranet sites and emails to find the help they need at that point in time.
What I have learned from the support I have received, is grief means something different for everyone; especially the way it is not only seen but managed. While I have been able to share my initial thoughts and reflections, I know there are many more.
Organizations play a key role in alleviating the pressure for employees. There is no one size fits all. They should be ready to meet these challenges with compassion and support. For me, it becomes the difference between an employer of choice or a place where you go to work.