The phrase “for better, for worse” defines marriage in traditional wedding vows, but the idea of being there to support another person in good times and bad applies to other types of relationships too.
Friends help each other cope with adversity, forging strong bonds through hard times. And that’s true of enduring employer-employee relationships also. Being there for employees who are going through tough times is not only the right thing to do, it’s good for business.
A SHRM survey found approximately 90 percent of employers provide bereavement leave for employees. Most companies allow three or four days off, and employees may have the option to use other PTO or unpaid leave to deal with a loss.
But keep in mind people heal in different ways: Some may need more than the allotted bereavement leave to recover, whereas others find comfort in focusing on work. And employees and their managers confront other situations that require support, such as an employee’s or family member’s serious illnesses or a sudden financial setback.
Managers can’t anticipate the exact circumstances that will affect employees’ ability to function normally on the job, but they can plan a support strategy to assist team members who are dealing with a difficult time.
Being there for employees who are enduring a hardship is vital no matter what kind of organization you manage or whether employees are onsite or remote team members. In fact, for the growing number of companies with remote-only workforces, it may be even more important for relationship building.
Providing time off for employees who have suffered a loss is the first step, and most employers have such a policy in place. But supporting employees through difficult times requires much more, and there are creative ways to provide support that have little or no budgetary impact. For example, we started a voluntary contribution program which built a fund we use to help team members weather hard times, raising $36,000 since 2013, of which $31,000 has been distributed.
Our program has helped employees who were dealing with a death in the family, hospitalizations, or family financial reversals due to a spouse’s job loss. The program provides a proactive way for employees to help each other as well as much-needed relief to families suffering a hardship.
The program has also brought our workforce together as a team, which is important no matter what the workplace configuration but perhaps especially for an all-remote workforce like ours.
One obstacle for people who want to help a coworker who is dealing with a serious problem is that they just don’t know what to say. This isn’t a barrier that only arises in the workplace — it’s a universal problem.
HR professionals and managers can help channel that impulse to offer comfort or help into positive action in several ways, serving as a go-between to relay offers of meals or assistance, condolences, requests for attendance at a memorial event and other communications between coworkers.
As the company’s representative, the HR liaison or front-line manager can reach out to the employee who is experiencing a hardship, letting him or her know what company bereavement policies are, arranging additional PTO or unpaid leave if needed and coordinating the transition of any work that needs to be redirected to colleagues.
HR or the affected employee’s manager might also coordinate signing and sending a sympathy card, arranging to send flowers or similar activities to express condolences.
No two employees are alike, so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to supporting employees through the most difficult times in life. A program that works for one company won’t necessarily be right for every business. But leadership is about providing a path through hard times, and all employees face challenges at some point.
There are gestures managers can make to help team members cope, and being there is not only the right thing to do, it’s also good for business because it creates strong and resilient teams.