Tomorrow would have been my beautiful Mum's birthday. After suffering from a lot of pain from various cancers my Mum died last year on the 6th March, aged 81 having retired from work at the age of 80. This was the start of lockdown and since then we have also attended far too many live streamings of funerals. We have all sadly lost loved ones over the past year.
In the previous normal world of work, we would have observed signs or heard updates about our critically ill collleagues or their ill/deceased family and friends. We would have been able to support, console and offer a physical shoulder to cry on. So, in the new world of work my view on how organisations can support bereavement is as follows:
1. The line manager - not everyone wishes to talk about how they are impacted in a virtual meeting. Their line manager should make sure they check in and ask how the employee is doing in their regular 121 meetings. This isn't a one-off conversation immediately after the bereavement either. Often reactions and impact can be much later especially, when people return to their physical workplaces during 2021. They may have lost a colleague and now they see the empty desk for the first time. Ensuring your managers are aware of the 5 stages of Kubler-Ross Model 5 stages of grief will really help. Due to the nature of their role, any employee having to deal with death on a regular basis, bereavement training is essential.
2. Communication - sometimes people are overly concerned about data breaches that they then do not communicate at all. Seek consent to communicated and preferences on how - there are many means of reaching out to someone. For my family, the messages, posted cards and gifts of condolences received were priceless.
3. Online memorial book - for the loss of someone we work beside (with family's permission) there are plenty of free websites to create an online book to share stories and photos amongst each other and then the family. Ask for work volunteers to coordinate this - it may help their grieving process. Mum's hospice arranged a virtual carol concert with candles for each missed one. Organisations can even purchase whole virtual Christmas trees to celebrate an employee's life. There will be lots of other ideas out there, just a little research and innovative thought required.
4. Live funeral streaming - update your "time off for funerals" policy to allow those that wish to attend the virtual live ceremony to be able to do so if possible in your workplace.
5. Signpost - understandably bereavement can sometimes trigger or exacerbate mental illness. If someone is showing signs of mental illness point them to an up to date resource bank. This can be prepared now, updated regularly, and retained in a shared platform. The same goes for critically ill employees - by providing them with practical information (especially on any impact on their pay, benefits and pension), being led by them and understanding their needs will all help.
If your organisation requires an external mental health ambassador, help with creating your mental well-being audit/strategy/training in this area please do not hesitate to message me.
You said we should keep your memory alive Mum and I know you would have loved this article, printing it out to show to all of your many friends and close relatives. In the meantime, a big glass raised to you tomorrow Mum x