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23 Nov 2022
by Dr Sophie Dix

4 ways to build a better bereavement policy

Everyone handles grief differently and employees need differing levels of support

‘Sorry for your loss’: 4 ways to build a better bereavement policy.jpg 1


However well-intentioned, the phrase ‘time heals all wounds’ should be added to the pile of sayings that need to be retired. This is especially true when the phrase in question appears to be influencing the policies that dictate how organisations support employees dealing with loss.

This is not to say time off is the wrong place to start. People need time and space to process grief. It’s just not all they need.

Bereavement and how companies handle it have been pushed into the spotlight in the last few years. Tragic events on the world stage and in employees’ personal lives have left them reeling. And a day (or even a few) away from work is unlikely to resolve a complex root issue like loss. To truly support grieving employees, organisations will need to rethink their approach. Here are four things to consider.

1) Get up to speed on ‘grief brain’

While grief is a normal protective process to help people process emotional trauma, it affects the brain and body in many different ways. For some, it may cause changes in memory, behaviour, sleep and cognitive function, which can also hit the immune system and the heart. Brain fog, trouble concentrating and difficulty making decisions are common complaints, but everyone is different. Keep this in mind and show employees empathy and flexibility.

2) Follow the employee's lead

Everyone experiences loss in their own way. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to grief. Some employees may prefer not to take much time off, stay busy, and engage in new projects, while others may need to fully disconnect while they grieve.

Listen to those who want to talk if you feel comfortable, but respect the wishes of people who say they’d rather not, pointing them to additional resources. While it’s good to be prepared with some ways to help, being empathetic and supportive means adapting your preconceived ideas to what the grieving person says they want.

3) Direct them to practical tools and support

Part of employers’ responsibility of care is ensuring employees a) have sufficient resources to support their mental and physical wellbeing and b) know where and how to access available tools and services, especially during difficult life events.

If you already provide some type of mental health care to your workforce, this is an excellent time to remind people it’s there and how to access it.

If you don’t already, consider adding additional support in the form of self-guided mental health resources that employees can use to handle grief-related problems like poor sleep or unhelpful thoughts whenever and wherever they come up (whether during the working day or in the middle of the night).

4) Choose your words carefully

Avoid platitudes and be mindful of people’s differing personal beliefs and attitudes to death. Be open-ended when offering support. Ask people how they are. Tell them you’re there to listen if they need you. Just recognising someone’s grief with ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ goes a long way.

Grief can feel uncomfortable, tricky and hard to navigate at work. But it’s a worthwhile effort to take care of people that won’t go unnoticed or unappreciated.

In partnership with Koa Health

At Koa Health, we believe digital mental health solutions are the answer to mental health issues.

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