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Wicklow Local Authorities

Guidelines to Grief in the Workplace Contents 1.

Introduction........................................................................ 2


The Grieving Process.......................................................... 3


Supporting a Bereaved Staff Member................................. 5

• Liasing with a grieving staff member............................... 5

• Removal and Funeral....................................................... 6

• Return to Work................................................................ 6

• Long Term Support.......................................................... 7


Breaking Bad News............................................................. 9


Deaths Affecting the Work Group..................................... 10


‘Difficult’ or Traumatic Death........................................... 11


Being Prepared.................................................................. 11

1. Introduction Bereavement is a difficult though normal life experience, which can have a significant impact on the person who suffers the loss. It is not a specialised issue and managers and colleagues have an important role to play in accommodating staff members during bereavement and in their subsequent grief. Wicklow Local Authorities Bereavement Policy provides a reference point for managers and employees, outlining standards at a time of distress for the staff member and potential awkwardness for the manager. As with all organisational policies and procedures, a written policy ensures a fair and consistent approach in managing situations. However unlike other policies a degree of flexibility is needed in interpreting the policy. Circumstances will differ and no two staff members will have the same experience or needs at a time of loss. No assumptions can be made and no ‘one size fits all’ policy is possible. This guideline document is intended as an additional aid to managers and staff coping with grief in the workplace. It raises various issues, which you may want to think about in assisting your staff member or colleague during their time of loss.


2. The Grieving Process Grief is a process that takes a lot longer than we might at first think. While it is important to support people around the immediate time of loss, it can often be some time later (3,6,9 or 12 months) before the impact of the loss begins to sink in and some of what we know to be normal feelings, behaviours and reactions come to the surface. These can include anger, guilt, helplessness, loneliness, anxiety, withdrawal, fatigue and tensions with others. While normal and expected, these grief reactions can nonetheless be difficult and painful for the person experiencing them and bewildering for those around. Grief has often been described as being like waves on a beach coming and going, and sometimes overwhelming a person. For a manager or supervisor it is helpful to remember that this is the normal rhythm of grief and that a member of staff who may be upset some months after a loss is not ‘losing it’ or ‘not coping well’. They may just be having a bad day, which is part of normal grieving. It can be easy to project onto the bereaved how we think they should behave. However it is crucial that a bereaved member of staff should be allowed to guide their colleagues in terms of the support they feel comfortable with themselves. For some, work can give a respite from grief, for others work can be an ordeal, interfering with the need to take time out for grieving and taxing meagre reserves of concentration, judgement and energy. It is helpful for managers and staff to be aware that grief can impact on concentration, energy levels and productivity of a bereaved member of staff, often for longer than may be expected and that sensitivity and understanding is required. It is important that there is good communication between the bereaved staff member and their Line Manager especially around workload etc.


If a Manager or Supervisor is concerned then it can be helpful to make the staff member aware of support services available to them. Within Wicklow Local Authorities such support services include: 1. 2. 3.

The Designated Contact People - Bereavement Support The Staff Support Service The Human Resources Section and supplementary information which they can provide.

Contact details for these support services are available through the Human Resources Section.

The Grieving Process - What to do · · · ·

It is very important to acknowledge the bereaved person’s loss. It does not help to avoid people. Keep it simple and say something that reflects how you feel. Keep communicating with your bereaved colleague about the loss and consult them on their preferences around what to say to colleagues, funeral arrangements, returning to work and managing workload. People may wish to talk about their grief or they may wish it to remain private - respect both their openness and their reticence.

The Grieving Process - What not to do · · ·

Do not say anything that minimises the person’s loss. Do not say you know what the person is going through, as you don’t. Each person’s experience of grief is individual to them. Do not expect the person to be back to full productivity immediately. Grief can potentially affect all areas of job performance from level and quality of work, general behaviour and effectiveness with others to attendance and time keeping.


3. Supporting a bereaved staff member Where a staff member becomes aware of the death of a relative of a colleague they should notify their Supervisor or Manager unless the bereaved staff member indicates otherwise. This enables the Manager or Supervisor to notify the relevant Director of Services or Engineer who should in turn inform any other staff he / she deems appropriate. The Director of Services / Engineer (or their nominee) will also liaise with Human Resources and arrange for condolences to be sent on behalf of the Local Authority where possible. It may be helpful for managers and staff to consider the following when a colleague has been bereaved:

• Liasing with a grieving staff member Best practise suggests that designating one person to liaise directly with the recently bereaved employee ensures continuity and enables a sensitive, person centred response from the Organisation. Responsibility generally resides with the Line Manager, but it could be delegated to another person depending on the circumstances. Making the initial contact with a bereaved staff member is an important first step towards providing support for the individual. Condolences can be formally offered, assurance given that their absence is supported and any particular needs identified. It can also be important to identify a staff members’ preference concerning communication of the news to colleagues or attendance at the funeral. The first message that bereaved staff members often need to hear is that they must take whatever time they need. Work comes second. Some may want to come back relatively soon, while others may need more time off. Arrangements regarding leave are usually made between the bereaved staff member and his or her Line Manager. Full details of the various leave entitlements are listed in the organisations’ Bereavement Policy document. 5

• Removal and Funeral It would be normal for an organisation to be represented by management and colleagues at the funeral of a bereaved staff member. Obviously any wishes of the bereaved staff member to the contrary should be respected. Where appropriate, care should be taken to facilitate work colleagues in paying their respects, as this helps both the staff member and his / her colleagues to begin to come to terms with the loss.

• Return to work A bereaved staff members’ return to work will be individual to them and their needs. Some may find it helpful to visit the workplace before they come back, if only to see the Manager and maybe have a chat with colleagues to break the ice. Coming back part-time for the first week or two can also work well and should be agreed in advance with the staff members’ line manager in consultation with Human Resources and by advisement of a Medical Practitioner. Concentration may be considerably reduced in the early weeks. Where safety is an issue or where tight deadlines or other stressful situations are unavoidable, ways of protecting the member of staff (and others) in the short term should be explored. The following is a list of things to consider when a bereaved person returns to work:

Do · · · · · · · · · ·

Acknowledge the loss Encourage them to talk if they want to Respect both their reticence and their openness Ask and listen to what the bereaved persons needs are Be aware that grief is a natural process of reaction and adjustment to loss and change Be aware that strong emotions like anger, sadness etc. though painful are a natural and healthy part of grief Be aware that concentration, energy levels, productivity and relationships with co-workers can be temporarily affected Offer support Be patient Know that grief goes on for a lot longer than you might think 6

Don’t · · · · ·

Minimise the impact of the loss Reassure when what is needed is permission to share grief Limit the time in which support is given Expect the bereaved colleague to be ‘back to normal’ quickly Pressurise them to get on with work that is not essential

As a Manager or Supervisor it is important to maintain frequent, and preferably uninterrupted contact in the early days. A ‘how is it going?’ meeting is usually best at the end of the shift, day or week, so that if the person becomes upset they do not need to go back to work. The Manager should not force things but make it clear that it is fine to talk about what they are finding most difficult at, or outside, work. The level of support available from family, friends and others outside the Organisation should be ascertained. If extra support is needed the Manager should ensure that the bereaved staff member is aware of the supports available within the Organisation e.g. · The Designated Contact People - Bereavement Support · The Staff Support Service · The Human Resources Section (Contact details for all of the above are available through Human Resources.) Supporting a bereaved member of staff can be difficult and emotional for managers and colleagues and staff should be aware that the Staff Support Service is also there to provide support for them if it is needed.

• Long term support It is important that support is not withdrawn suddenly. Regular or ad hoc meetings can be gradually less frequent and may be quite low key or integrated into other meetings but they are an important means of checking how the member of staff is coping.


Bereavement counselling is helpful for some but it is certainly not relevant to everyone and should not usually be the first port of call. The need for it may not emerge until some months after a death or even longer, if at all. The Designated Contact People and / or Staff Support Service can assist with referral to appropriate services if this becomes necessary. Where possible acknowledge important anniversaries suitably and sensitively.


4. Breaking Bad News In general, every effort should be made to ensure the most appropriate person breaks the news of a death in the most appropriate place. However, occasionally it may fall to a Manager or colleague to inform a member of staff of the death of his / her relative or to inform a relative of a staff members death or to inform staff members of the death of one of their colleagues. Critically the person assigned the task should be willing and reasonably comfortable in taking it on. This is a difficult task for everyone involved and it is important to prepare properly before meeting the bereaved person or people. The following may be helpful to consider: · · · · · · · · · · · · ·

Think about whom you will be talking to and practise what you are going to say Ask another person that you trust and feel comfortable with to accompany you Ensure that you use a private place, which is comfortable and suitable for the purpose Make sure that you have the details correct and that the information you are giving is accurate Be clear and honest and do not use euphemisms like ‘passed on’ Allow time for what you are saying to sink in and do not rush Prepare yourself for the possible reactions of the staff member(s) / relative(s) from upset and distress through to calm Allow them time to express their reaction to the news and be patient Convey your own and the Local Authorities’ sympathy at their loss Assure them that the Local Authority will be supportive in whatever way it can If the staff member is on site provide transport for them to wherever they need to go as they may be in shock Ensure that they do not travel alone and if they do not have a preference for a particular person to accompany them appoint someone Finally, be aware that this is difficult for you too and ensure that you have adequate support 9

5. Deaths affecting the work group Some types of deaths may have a particularly powerful impact on colleagues individually or as a group e.g. • The death of a child or young person • A violent death

• The death of a working colleague or recently retired staff member • A death occurring at work • A death by suicide

It is important that any staff member who becomes aware of the death of a colleague informs their Supervisor or Manager. The Supervisor or Manager should then inform their Director of Services or Engineer. This allows the Director or Engineer to inform Human Resources and for both to ensure that there is an appropriate response thereafter. The Wicklow Local Authorities Bereavement Policy guides this response in a way that properly acknowledges the loss and supports the bereaved. Human Resources will circulate notification of the death of the staff member to colleagues and details of the removal and funeral. Staff wishing to attend the removal and / or funeral should be facilitated wherever possible. It is important that staff are given an opportunity to formally or informally discuss a death of this nature so that they can express their sense of grief or loss. If the loss affects a specific group of staff it is a good idea to facilitate the group to have these discussions together. They may wish to make decisions in relation to immediate arrangements and also future responses collectively. The bereavement will also affect individual members of the group in different ways depending on their own history of bereavement and relationships. In some cases it may be helpful to seek the support of an external consultant or counsellor who can facilitate the group and its individual members in a number of ways.


6. ‘Difficult’ or Traumatic Death A death of this nature, which may include a sudden, unanticipated death, a violent death or a death by suicide, can present the same difficulties as another bereavement but the intensity of the facts about the death can heighten the emotional response. This is normal and not something to be discouraged or feared. However it is important to be aware that events of this nature have the potential to create significant distress and can overwhelm the usual coping mechanisms of those involved. A traumatic incident of this nature is outside the range of usual human experience and can cause unusually strong emotional reactions. It may impede peoples coping mechanisms immediately or in the future following an event and it may impair their ability to adjust and impact negatively on their work. Examples of this type of trauma would be the death or serious injury of a staff member or a member of the public where staff members were present. If such a death occurs within the working environment it may necessitate a Critical Incident Stress Management response. In such a case the Organisations’ Human Resources Section should be contacted as quickly as possible in order to ensure that appropriate supports are available.

7. Being Prepared It is inevitable that deaths will impact on the workplace from time to time. If at all possible Managers and Supervisors should prepare themselves to support their staff through bereavement and subsequent grief by raising their own awareness. The Wicklow Local Authorities Bereavement Policy and various supporting documents are available from the Human Resources Section. ‘Grief at work’ training is also available on request. Managers and Supervisors should themselves be aware that providing support to a bereaved member of staff can be difficult and that the support structures within the organisation, such as the Staff Support Service, are there to support them too.




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Wicklow county council guidelines to grief in the workplace  

Wicklow county council guidelines to grief in the workplace