How can an employer help?
- The employee may be receiving counselling; it can help to be given time away from work for these appointments.
- You could ask the bereaved person how their grief is affecting them, what they would like their colleagues to be told in relation to the death, and how they feel they could best be supported at this time.
- You could invite the bereaved employee to a morning tea or lunch a couple of days before they return to work. This would enable them to meet with their colleagues and share stories, photos etc. and let their colleagues know what they need in terms of support. This would also benefit your team in handling their concerns about not knowing what to do or say when their colleague returns to work.
- It is also helpful when an employer provides information to fellow employees about suicide and bereavement, and perhaps invites a counsellor to speak with them creating a greater ease and understanding about offering support.
How can work colleagues help?
Work colleagues react to bereavement in different ways. Some feel awkward and avoid the bereaved person or make no reference to the death. The circumstances of some deaths are particularly difficult and for many, suicide presents a particular challenge for some people about what to say.
It makes it easier if colleagues can mention the death, however uncomfortable they may feel. Just a few words, such as "I was so sorry to hear about your son", will be helpful. Not everyone will want to talk about their situation in depth, especially when first returning to work. Later, they may appreciate some acknowledgement of the anniversary of the death as the year comes round.
Line managers may be able to consider various options for easing an employee back into work. It helps if colleagues can be sympathetic towards their needs for time off, for example, to go to counselling. Colleagues need to be aware that grief can be erratic and unpredictable, and that its impact lasts far longer than a few weeks.
Face to face with the public
There are added strains when bereaved people work with others who are physically or mentally unwell, or when they support people with emotional difficulties. A newly bereaved person is emotionally vulnerable and the problems of others weigh heavily on them, accentuating their grief and perhaps having an impact on their work for a time. Alternatively, the concerns articulated by a patient or client can sometimes seem unimportant in relation to the bereaved person's loss.