COVID-19: Creating a Supportive & Inclusive Culture for Grieving Employees

As a result of COVID-19, we are preparing for the reentry of a new workforce that is managing both collective and individual grief. Yet, most companies are not ready to support their employees. A staggering 1-in-4 employees is grieving a loss at any given time. According to a study by the Grief Recovery Institute, 85% of workers said that grief affected their productivity and decision-making abilities. Lost productivity and absenteeism related to grief costs employers $75-$100 billion annually.

We recently hosted a virtual discussion with Liz Eddy, Co-Founder and CEO of Lantern.  Liz provided tips on how to create an inclusive and supportive culture around grief during and after COVID-19 to ensure that employees feel supported and prepared for what’s ahead. This week’s newsletter is dedicated to sharing those tips.

Understanding Grief & How to Support Grieving Employees

Grief is normal, but we’ve been conditioned to leave everything at the door when we walk into work, and our workplace is so much of our daily lives. We spend more time in the workplace than we do at home or with our own families, so leaving our grief at the door is nearly impossible. That’s why it’s so important for companies to recognize the impact that grief has on employees, and business, and that it might be time to level up bereavement policies and end of life planning benefits. If you think your employee group isn’t grieving loss, it likely could be that the culture has not created a space for grieving.

Grief has a wide range of emotions associated with it. It has difference faces, experiences and timelines. If you’ve ever grieved the loss of someone, you may recall that it came in waves of different emotions, at different times, and no matter how recent or long ago you experienced this loss, even if you don’t talk about it, it doesn’t mean you are not still grieving. Grief can come in the form of anger, denial, disconnecting, sorrow/emotional pain, trouble focusing, forgetfulness, frustration and the more common emotion we associate with grief, sadness. In some varying degree, we are all currently grieving some type of loss, and acknowledging the types of emotions associated with grief can help you identify when you might need to give yourself or a team member a little extra time, practice self care, and/or reach out to a support system. It’s time to normalize these emotions and create a workplace where people can be human, and where we don’t make people feel wrong or weak for grieving.

There is also no timeline for grieving. Many people who are grieving may want to continue their life as is (ie: return to work sooner than you may think they “should”), while others may need more time before returning to work, and even once they do return to work, that doesn’t mean the grieving is done. It’s important to reflect and recognize that everyone handles grief differently, because contrary to the [old] five stages of grief that you may be familiar with (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance), grief is less linear as these stages imply, and actually more of an oscillating dual process that waxes and wanes. 

What to say to someone who is grieving:

  • First, ask yourself if you are the right person to support them
  • If yes, find a private place to. Don’t put the individual on display. Your job is not to fix the emotions, but to allow the them to feel supported and heard. 
  • Reflect their language. If the person who is grieving states “they’re in a better place”, it’s okay to say that. But if they’re not, avoid this phrase. It is not our place to tell someone how to feel about loss. Also, sometimes we are grieving loss of someone, but it isn’t necessarily a “loved one”. 
  • If you too have lost someone, don’t assume the loss is similar. You may think sharing stories of “I know how you feel” will be helpful, but it isn’t, and it only minimizes their experience. 
  • Keep information private

How to support someone who is grieving:

  • Check in. It wasn’t just a one time conversation as this individual will be grieving for time to come. Especially check in on their self care.
  • Put reminders to check in on certain dates. Milestones and dates of death are a big part of the grieving process. Simply reaching out on a milestone date (ie: date of death) to check in and show support goes a long way.
  • Share benefits available through employer that can be helpful in supporting employees needs
  • Be specific when offering help. Don’t ask someone “how can I support you?”. This only puts a burden on them to come up with ways for you to support them. Instead let them know the ways in which you are able to help them like helping them prepare for an upcoming meeting or presentation.
  • Don’t assume a timeline to be “better”
  • Arm yourself with calming techniques. If you find yourself in a situation where an employee has a panic attack or hyperventilates when having these tough conversations, knowing how to help bring someone back and reacquaint themselves with their senses is helpful (breathing techniques, etc). 
  • If you have also experienced loss, check in with yourself and manage your own self care as well

 Steps to Improve Your Companies Bereavement Policy: 

  • Provide resources for emotion and logistical support (grief counselor, community, fundraising for funeral costs, etc.)
  • Share any benefits that may be applicable 
  • Clearly state your bereavement policy
  • Educate your employees about how to talk to and support someone who is grieving (above tips)
  • Talk about grief and your policy openly. Lantern’s policy is “We provide up to 3 weeks of paid leave for employees dealing with the death of immediate family member (as defined by the employee) and up to 2 weeks of leave for an extended family member. With unlimited vacation, and the ability to work from home, we’ll work with you to make sure you’re getting the time and flexibility you need” (Lantern 2020 Employee Handbook).  Employees get to determine what “immediate family member” means to them, as it is not always necessarily the traditional spouse, sibling, parent, and they provide a flexible timeframe, giving employees the time they need.

Corporate Spotlight: Lantern

Lantern is an end of life planning service that provides businesses with this very important and very timely benefit that helps individuals navigate grief and loss during life’s hardest moments. When an employee loses someone and is grieving, they not only have to manage their emotions, they may also have to manage the logistics that come along with closing out someones life. From closing out accounts, to funeral planning, to legal matters and end of life wishes, Lantern provides employees with the support and tools to create an end-of-life planning roadmap to help making grieving a little bit easier.

Think checklists, content by leading experts, exclusive access to Lantern’s partners for will and trust creation, digital grief support, life insurance, and funeral home and cremation search and coming Fall 2020, collaboration, digital sharing and document storage. Members can use Lantern to pre-plan for themselves, someone else, for an immediate death or post funeral. Lantern also helps companies through the death of an employees and  can help employers evaluate and amend their bereavement policies. 

Employees feel empowered ticking things off their list with Lantern, and confident that they’re doing all they need to do with their budget and preferences in mind. When companies help employees plan for and respond to life’s most challenging moments, it creates a more compassionate culture, attracts and retains talent, boosts morale, and increases productivity. By partnering with Lantern, you can enhance your benefits and offer your employees the first comprehensive end-of-life digital solution.

Leave a Reply