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Managing grief without employer support

At some stage in our lives we are likely to have to deal with grief, and as our parents age that time moves closer. Yet while employers are charged with implementing policies for a whole raft of situations, some do not seem to know how to support those who are grieving – or even concede that this is a good thing to do.

Take the experience of Emma Tomes. Emma found her employers woefully lacking in sympathy when she lost her husband. Pulling her socks up and soldiering on seemed to be the message, and time to grieve just wasn’t on the agenda.

Later Emma’s mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer and her mother-in-law with Alzheimer’s disease. Her employer’s response was that she was carrying too much emotional baggage and needed to become more resilient.

In time Emma left her job to retrain as a coach and leader at The Mental Health People, helping people with emotional health difficulties, which can often be caused by grief.

Emma reports that many people have said they have struggled at work after bereavement.

And HR teams acknowledge that loss can often be the catalyst for grievances and tribunals, while managers themselves don’t feel confident or comfortable about what to do when the worst does happen.

What we need from employers

Emma argues that ‘We need managers to embrace compassion and support in a way that means their colleagues don’t have to suffer even more when they are already coping in what can already be extreme circumstances.

‘We need the founders and directors to invest in their workforce and we need greater understanding of how debilitating grief can be.

‘Those thinking more about their bottom line than their employees’ wellbeing should be assured that a study by Deloitte found that for every GBP £1 invested in mental health support in the workplace, there is an average return of GBP £5 in improved productivity and reduced absenteeism.’

At least we can manage self-care

Whether or not employers are providing support, Emma has drawn up a list of tips for helping yourself to manage your own wellbeing in times of grief:

  • Take time out from technology, especially social media. And when you do switch on your screen or phone, find apps that promote relaxation and mental clarity
  • Explore arts and crafts as therapy and a means of self-expression. Engaging your creative side can help you to process emotions
  • Cook more and not just for day-to-day meals. Experiment with new dishes that excite your taste buds, and make enjoyment of the new as part of therapy
  • Make new friendships. Find like-minded people and those with similar experiences through virtual meetups or local community groups. Share stories, support each other, and build meaningful relationships
  • Try journaling as a means of self-reflection. You can write about your thoughts, feelings and aspirations to understand yourself better
  • Download podcasts that cover topics like health, self-care, and personal growth. They have potential to lift your spirits and inspire positive change
  • Get outdoors. You could try hiking, biking, or gardening. Spending time in nature has profound benefits for mental health, promoting relaxation and reducing stress
  • Laugh whenever you can. Laughter therapy can be enjoyed through comedy shows, funny films, or even laughter yoga

Pushing for greater understanding

Meanwhile, Emma says she is on a mission to support companies and organisations who care for their employees to not just find the right words at such a crucial period at the height of grief, but also establish meaningful ways to genuinely be there for people.

As Emma argues: ‘We all know that employees who feel supported and valued are more satisfied and productive at work, and there is no more urgent time to be there for them than when they are grieving.’

If you found this article helpful you may like to read:
Coping with grief once the practical steps have been organised

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