Chances are employees who are dealing with grief from losing a loved one have carried that hardship with them into the office, even if they’re not showing it. Employers typically offer just one to two paid weeks off, while FMLA law requires employers to grant three months of unpaid leave. However, grief doesn’t just end at the two-week or three-month mark.
Companies tend to deal with grief as an isolated incident, one which the employee should address on their own time, outside of the office.
However, we can’t expect our grieving employees to return refreshed, restored, and ready to dive back to work at 100 percent. In fact, grief exhibits a major crossover with clinical depression — so much so, the two conditions have recently been listed in correspondence with one another in the DSM-5. And it could be even more debilitating for employees to feel expected to be on their A-game right off the bat.
Even with these realities, however, employers and managers can support grieving employees on their journey — and resilience can be their guide. Here are four keys to helping you’re your employee’s grief and easing them back into the workplace resiliently.
1. Address the elephant in the room
Neglecting to check in with a grieving employee can lead them to feel invisible, isolated, and unheard. Instead, managers should reach out and ask the employee what they or the company can do to help and offer to touch base periodically for check-ins preceding and following their period of leave.
Upon their return, strive to strike a balance between being open to talking about what your employee is going through and not pushing them to open up. Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, suggests asking the question, “How are you doing today?” to acknowledge the person’s feelings and experiences might be changing day-to-day.
2. Support is key
Managers should also form a supportive community around the employee. Human connection, whether it be reconnecting with coworkers and friends or volunteering has been found to be one of the most helpful healing aids during the grieving process, helping them rebound more quickly, and buffering them from pain.
Having team members chip in and offer to relieve the employee of some of their responsibilities, or just offering a listening ear when or if the employee is ever in need of one can be boundlessly comforting.
Research shows “those who are able to smile when describing their relationship [to the deceased] six months after the loss were happier and healthier 14 months out than those who could only speak of the deceased with sadness, fear and anger.” Take extra care to bring positivity to the workplace and to your team, and be encouraging and uplifting in your support.
3. Help them build resilience before they really need it
Sandberg advocates for “pre-traumatic” growth, which entails “building up resilience before something bad happens” so we are better able to deal with it.
Instill your employees with the tools they need long before they really need them: Empower them when they need it, model resilience yourself, foster an environment of social support, encourage them to take on new challenges and to learn from their mistakes.
Resilience is a great set of tools to have when things are going well, but even more important when you are faced with a hardship like grief, that puts it to the test.
4. Remember, it’s individual
The most important thing to remember is people experience grief in individualized ways, and go through the stages of grief at their own pace. While it may seem your employee has returned to their usual self one day, it’s entirely possible that they will have a terrible day the next.
Keep this in mind when offering support, and be mindful of their individual grieving style. They may not explicitly tell you what they need, but whether they say it or not, your support and understanding will make all the difference in boosting their resilience in the face of tragedy.