by Judy Carole

In a nutshell

1. Bereavement is a common experience

Approximately t welve thousand people die every week in the UK, so most of us will experience bereavement at some point during our working lives. Symptoms of grief can include

  • Forgetfulness
  • Lethargy
  • Indecisiveness
  • Anxiety and loss of concentration
  • Crying.

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2. An employee suffers a significant bereavement

Suggest that they contact you when they have had time to digest the news.

  • Immediately acknowledge the death by sending a note or flowers from management and co workers. This will give a feeling of support.
  • Make initial cover arrangements, plus a contingency plan for more, if needed.

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3. A bereaved person’s return to work

The following procedures are helpful in overcoming a potentially awkward situation, the first point being appropriate where a woman is concerned:

  • A welcome back card or flowers, where appropriate, and if the person has been off work for an extended period
  • Showing continued interest in their wellbeing during the forthcoming weeks
  • Giving the employee a reasonable amount of flexibility in both working hours and time off to help cope with the combined stress of work and grief.

When it is a man who is returning after bereavement

  • ‘Sorry to hear your news’ followed by an open invitation to the pub at lunch time or after work, or whatever is suitable to your environment.

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4. Loss of a team member

In addition to following the normal procedure for a bereavement, the manager or deputy should

  • Inform each member of the team, if possible, by phone before they arrive at the workplace; if necessary, text and ask them to call you, but do not give the news by text
  • Wait for them as they arrive so that they do not find out by chance
  • Give them as much information about the circumstances of the death possible, to prevent speculation and confusion
  • Encourage employees to meet and share their memories and grief and find positive ways of handling it and remembering their colleague.

A death in the workplace should be immediately reported to the Health and Safety Manager and the appropriate Senior Manager.

  • The death must also be reported the Incident Contact Centre of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
  • An investigation procedure should immediately be implemented.

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5. The stages of grief

Much has been written about grief and theories abound.

  • Elizabeth Kubler Ross describes five stages: denial, anger, guilt, depression and acceptance
  • Sidney Zisook describes four stages: separation distress, traumatic distress, guilt remorse and regrets and social withdrawal
  • Worden’s Four Tasks are to accept the reality of the loss, to process the pain of grief, to adjust to a world without the deceased, and to find an enduring connection with the deceased in the midst of embarking on a new life.

However, it is important to be aware that grief is very individual and that people react in different ways.

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6. Factors that can complicate bereavement

Several factors can complicate and prolong the process. It is therefore important not to put pressure on the person to resume their full workload immediately or catch up on lost time.

  • Previous bereavements can lead to an accumulation of grief.
  • Unresolved issues can cause problems.
  • If the relationship was not formally recognised, vital help and support may be lacking.

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7. Men and women react differently

This is one of the (many!) areas where women and men react differently.

  • Women are more likely to share their emotions and feelings, whereas men are more likely to bury their heads in work.
  • Women are likely to agonise over how to ease a bereaved fellow worker back into the workplace.

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8. Multi cultural aspects

Our workplaces are increasingly multi-cultural. In order not to make an embarrassing faux pas, it is helpful to know the diverse traditions and ceremonies involved in the different religions and beliefs.

  • Flowers are not usually appropriate for Jewish funerals.
  • Sikh scriptures state that relatives should not express their grief.
  • Post-mortems are intensely disliked by Muslims.

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