The Pandemic: Ways Management Helps Grieving Employees

Employers are faced with challenges in the workplace unlike any experienced before. The coronavirus pandemic has led to sweeping economic, social and employment challenges that employers must navigate for the continued success of the business and for their employees.

As employers deal with the realities of employee layoffs, remote work from home, rehiring employees and employees returning to the physical workplace, awareness of the needs and experiences of individual employees will be very important. Employers will need to pay particular  attention  to  communicating  clearly  with  employees  and providing reassurance that steps are taken to ensure that the workplace is safe and healthy. More directly, management may learn of and want to address employees on an individual basis relative to their grief experiences.

During this pandemic, individual employees may experience (or have experienced) illness or death within their own family or other close relationships. On top of that, the employee is attempting to return to work while processing their grief. Employees may also be experiencing anxiety in general over the prospect of returning to work due to potential exposures. Often, employers and co-workers – are unsure how to assist employees during this difficult time.

How Long Does Grief Take? There is no timetable for grief. It is different for everyone. Avoid setting deadlines for getting over it. People may experience deep grief after the death of a loved one. When someone is struggling with grief HOPE suggests taking time to grieve , one day, one hour, even 15 minutes at a time.

Safety must be a priority. Following the guidelines for safety will benefit the administration, your employees and customers. You may initiate additional safety measures appropriate for your business.

Grief – When an employee experiences a death in their family, management often reaches out by attending services, sending flowers and other remembrances, communicating the news to co-workers and providing the employee with time off and referral to services such as those provided by HOPE for Bereaved. However, employers must recognize that grief – and the opportunity to grieve –  may be very different at this time. In particular, due to social distancing and other limitations,  opportunities to grieve may be more limited and an individual may experience an extended grief period. Normal events such as viewings, wakes, visitations and memorial gatherings may be extremely limited, delayed or even canceled. This leaves grieving employees unable to receive personal support from their extended families, friends and co-workers. Management should determine how to offer support in other meaningful ways, such as the use of technology, send cards or give a memorial gift.

Other Reasons For Grief – There are many reasons people grieve beside death – divorce • separation • serious illness • family member involved with drugs or alcohol  • job loss • incarceration • moving • disability • death of a pet • breakup of a friendship and more. If an employee is experiencing any of these or a death they need personal support which may only be available by phone and social media. When an employee returns to work their stifled grief may need understanding and support from  management and coworkers. When the death is by murder, suicide, drug over­ dose, multiple deaths or COVID it is important to make extra efforts to reach out at the time of death and provide on-going support.

Understanding Grief – It is a difficult yet human process that affects everyone at various times in their life.  There are no easy answers but it can be managed and eventually life can be enjoyed.  The bereaved are on a journey they never wanted to take.  Grief is unique, like a fingerprint or a snowflake.  It is important to understand the various elements of grief. Some of the elements include shock, crying, anxiety, panic, depression,  guilt,  lowered  self  esteem and anger. Unresolved grief may lead to emotional and physical problems, drug abuse, absenteeism, PTSD and suicide.

Ways To Help – LISTEN! – Realize the bereaved need to talk. Don’t force or change conversation. By repeating they come to believe the reality of the death or other grief. Don’t give advice. Avoid cliches. KEEP LISTENING!

Validate Their Feelings. – Recognize that the bereaved know how they feel. Don’t try to talk them out of their feelings or distract them. Realize grief may take a long time.

On-Going: Support & Thoughtfulness – Make the first move with a call, card or email. Don’t avoid them. Keep in touch. Remember special days (mothers/fathers day, anniversary of death, birthday). Send thinking of you cards, flowers, give HOPE’s book or a book for journaling, fruit basket or memorial brick. Realize the current death may rekindle past grief causing pain and new grief. Offer practical help. Check with HR or EAP for resources on grief, divorce, aging parents, etc.

Moving Forward – It helps to personally recognize the many reasons we have to be grateful and to share this suggestion with your employees – dedication of front line medical personnel who risk their lives, firemen, security, police, store clerks, bus drivers, truckers, hospital maintenance, food banks, volunteers and many others.

Reassure – Remind employees that the best minds are working on a cure and vaccine The true heroes, our healthcare workers, continue to risk their lives to care for us. Consider what “acts of kindness” you, your business can provide.

Communication – must be ongoing. Employees need to hear frequently from management. They need to be reassured about their future employment, insurance or if they need to apply for unemployment. Information must be current, truthful, compassionate and helpful. Use technology, phone and social media  (i.e. email, Zoom, Facebook, etc.)  Provide a telephone number for employees to call with questions or for a good listener.

Anxiety is being felt by many in these uncertain times.  The suggestions for coping with grief may be helpful to those experiencing anxiety.

Terrible Events – They teach powerful lessons about life, courage and concern for others. There are many heroes who help make our world a better, safer place. Remember Mr. Rogers advice ‘Look for the HELPERS , they are everywhere!” It will not be easy but we all can get thru this together. Let’s pray for each other, the front line heroes, dedicated researchers, the thousands of families bereaved by a COVID death and for a cure.