Managing a business means dealing with uncertainty. There are a few things in life, however, which are more or less certain, and one of them is death. At some point or other, you’ll have to contend with employees who have lost those near and dear to them. Grief is a natural reaction to bereavement, but it’s a process that might take time to work through.
During this emotionally challenging time, bereaved employees will benefit massively from having an understanding employer. If your business is going to act in the right way, it’s a very good idea to implement policies and procedures designed to support employees in this situation. By setting out your reaction in advance, you’ll be able to act in the right way when the worst happens.
A poor policy for bereavement, or no policy at all, risks damaging your relationship, not only with the bereaved employee, but with the wider workforce. Since bereavement is a situation that everyone might anticipate being in, any mishandling might be noted by other employees. It might also be noted by potential candidates for roles within your business. This can have a corrosive effect on the culture of your business.
On the other hand, having the right policies in place might help to establish your business as a supportive employer. This might inspire the sort of confidence that, as well as being inherently desirable, will spur your workers onto greater levels of productivity. Employees will go the extra mile for an employer who stood with them in tough times.
Perhaps the most obvious question for those devising a policy of this kind is this: how much time off should a bereaved employee get? This policy will provide line managers and employees alike with reassurance, and ensure that there’s consistency across the business.
If you don’t have a policy when it comes to bereavement leave, then it will be left to the discretion of the manager. This will inevitably lead to inconsistencies, which might be interpreted as favouritism. The last thing that a bereaved person wants to have to think about is why a colleague was given a month off when they’ve only been given two weeks.
In some cases, the employee with have a legal right to time off after a bereavement. Since 2020, Jack’s Law has ensured that parents whose children have died under the age of eighteen are legally entitled to two weeks off.
Where your company’s bereavement leave policy does not allow for the amount of time off you think is appropriate, you might discuss using sick leave or holiday leave to provide extra time. Unpaid leave might be considered – but only as a last resort. For reasons we’ll discuss presently, it’s the least palatable option for everyone.
It’s a good idea to provide your employees with financial advice, for example by reminding them that they can take out a probate loan, or with an advance salary during the bereavement leave. This will ensure that they’re not having to think about making a choice to come back to work for the wrong reasons. It will also help to maintain a positive atmosphere of goodwill. When your employer cuts your wages when you’re in this situation, you’ll tend to remember it.
Your business should seek to empathise with and understand the employee in question. This means having open conversations about what they need, and what they’re going through. Naturally, being able to talk to people in this situation is a skill that can be honed. Providing training to a few key members of HR staff might be worthwhile.
Generally speaking, it’s important for management to allow the bereaved employee to dictate the next steps in the process. Assess the needs of the employee, determine how they can be practicably met, and put the plan into action.
It’s important also to be mindful of the transition back into work. Check whether the balance is right in terms of workload, and where possible, seek to ease them back into work. If they have a preference, then try to get them to express it. If not, make sure that the door is always open for readjustment. It might be that they think they’re ready, when they aren’t quite there yet.
Mental Health Support
The death of a loved one can take a huge emotional toll, and it can often be devastating to one’s mental health. Of course, that isn’t to say that bereavement is an inherently unhealthy thing – if it were, then everyone would be unhealthy. But it’s the job of your business to play the right supportive role, and to create the right environment. If you can make resources available to support the mental health of your employees, then you should do so. What’s more, you should have mechanisms in place to identify where mental health needs are not being met.