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24 Jul 2023
by Kahlicia Hurley

How benefits can support employees through a family crisis

The fallout from Covid-19 and the cost-of-living-crisis have made it harder for employees to cope with family events such as bereavement. But there are ways that employers can help.

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The Covid-19 pandemic had a profound impact on family functioning and wellbeing on a global scale. As people search for a sense of normality post-Covid, the cost-of-living crisis and the rise in family caregiving mean families continue to struggle to manage the increasing demands and constraints placed upon them.

Alternative work arrangements (including working from home), work overload and technological challenges contribute further to these tensions, resulting in the lines between work and home life becoming further eroded.

Employee wellbeing and happiness at work is largely determined by the state of their home and family relationships. It is common for people to feel sad and become distracted at work when facing family issues such as a bereavement, a serious medical condition or family estrangement.

With the increasing pressures placed on individuals and families, employers need to provide employees with appropriate support to overcome family crises, maintain emotional wellness and remain engaged at work.

Developing awareness

Employee workshops and training sessions on wellness and resilience is an opportunity to provide employees with coping mechanisms and make individuals aware that they are not alone in their family struggles.

Opening conversations in the workplace can also allow employees to realise that troubles in the family are not a ‘taboo’ or forbidden topic of discussion and could encourage them to share what’s going on with a trusted manager, mentor, or colleague rather than bottling up negative feelings, increasing the risk of higher stress levels or anxiety which would affect work performance.

Changing family needs

Employees with wide responsibilities within the home, such as those with young children, carers for elderly parents, or anyone with additional caregiving duties could feel overwhelmed simply trying to balance demanding family duties with work.

To combat this, consider allowing employees to change their working pattern, such as permitting flexible working hours, working from home, part-time working, or being allowed to take personal days to relieve the strain on their mental health.

A study by Marie Curie found that six in 10 employees who were bereaved felt that grief continued to affect their performance months after the death of a loved one. It has also been reported that 56% of employees would consider leaving their job if their employer did not provide support if someone close to them died.

Implementing a bereavement policy that offers flexible working can ensure employees get the time off and support they need during this difficult period. Senior managers can also have access to a clear framework that instructs them on what to do to support employees during such a crisis.

Almost six in 10 employers (59%) say family friendly policies have been essential to their talent strategy over the past three years to a great or very great extent, a figure expected to grow to 77% in the next two years.

Counselling, support or practical solutions

According to a recent study, 28.6% of 10,000 employees seeking emotional counselling from an employee assistance programme (EAP) were struggling with family arguments or relationship breakdowns, making this an even bigger problem than mental health issues, (the second-biggest cause of employees' concerns, affecting 27.9%).   

This, combined with the recent introduction of divorce leave by major employers such as Tesco and Unilever, demonstrates a growing awareness of how significantly home life can affect an employee’s wellbeing at work.

This suggests there is an increasing number of employees who may need support for personal or family crisis events that goes beyond the realms of the traditional EAP.  Forward thinking employers may therefore wish to prioritise the emotional needs of their employees in a more robust manner, by introducing a support system or technology platform that offers practical support and guidance, alongside the traditional emotional or therapeutic support.

Cultivate a culture of compassion

The British trait of keeping a ‘stiff upper lip’ and retaining a façade of coping at work despite grappling with issues at home can be corrosive and debilitating. Developing and maintaining an atmosphere of compassion within the office increases the likelihood of employees feeling they can approach others when they are going through a hard time.

This approach includes consistently being able to demonstrate listening skills, showing personal interest and empathy.

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