It can be difficult to know how best to support staff experiencing bereavement. There is no normal response to loss. Everyone's response and emotions are individual and experiences vary enormously.
There is no ‘standard’ way of grieving. Cultures and individuals have their own beliefs and ceremonies. However, they all share many experiences.
- Some common emotions experienced during a loss:
NumbnessIn the few hours or days following the death, people may feel simply stunned, as though they can't believe it has actually happened.
AgitationAfter a few days the numbness usually wears off. People feel a sense of agitation, of missing or yearning for the dead person. They may find it difficult to relax, concentrate or sleep.
AngerPeople may feel anger. This could be directed at doctors and nurses who did not prevent the death, towards friends and relatives who did not do enough, or even towards the person who has died because they have gone.
GuiltPeople may find themselves going over all the things they would have liked to have said to or done with the deceased person. They may wonder if they could have prevented the death, even though death is usually beyond anyone’s control.
ReliefPeople may feel relieved if their loved one has died after a painful or distressing illness. This is not callous – it is common and understandable.
SorrowAfter the weeks of strong feelings, they may gradually become sad and withdrawn. They may feel less agitated but have more periods of feeling down. These peak between four and six weeks later.
ReflectionFor several months, people may find themselves spending a lot of time just sitting, doing nothing. They find themselves thinking about the person they have lost, going over in their mind their memories of the times they had together. This is a quiet, but essential part of coming to terms with the death.As time passes, the fierce pain of early bereavement fades, the sadness lifts and they start to think about other things and look to the future. They finally “let go” of the person who has died and start a new sort of life.
- Help with bereavement
Who can help?
- voluntary or religious organisations
- people who have been through the same experience
- a bereavement counsellor
- a psychotherapist
- the employee support line
- A suggested return to work programme:
When a person informs you of the death of a loved one, they will expect a compassionate response. They will also expect some help with overcoming practical concerns, including time off for making arrangements and attending the funeral. HR will give you guidance on current policies.
In exceptional circumstances, staff may need more time off than the standard HR policy allows. Contact HR who will be able to support you on what is reasonable and other options for the individual taking time off if required.
Things to consider:
- A phased return to work may be necessary, with reduced hours building up to normal hours.
- The employee may need to accommodate any therapeutic sessions when they return to work, e.g. counselling.
- The employee may require a period shadowing a colleague or mentoring to re-acquaint them with the work process.
It is important to monitor their progress to be able to address problems early.
If the employee is unable to return to their normal duties and hours after a period of 4 weeks, HR will be able to offer you support.
It may also be helpful to call the occupational health management advice line on 023 8062 6600 for further guidance.