Grief is something we are all likely to experience in our lifetimes, however, the workplace often falls short when it comes to supporting those who have experienced profound loss. More than one in five pregnancies end in miscarriage, so being aware of the impact this can have and knowing how to offer the right support can drastically help your employees who go through such a bereavement.
As an employer, you should keep in mind that everyone grieves differently, and there is no right or wrong way to do so. It is estimated that 1 in 10 employees are affected by grief at any one time. Having a supportive and compassionate bereavement policy is essential if you want to properly care for your employees’ wellbeing and help them to feel comfortable when eventually returning to work.
Create a supportive environment
Consciously creating a working environment that makes employees feel supported and comfortable is essential. Fostering such an environment means when a loss does occur, employees already feel comfortable reaching out to their line manager and don’t have to worry about being judged or misunderstood.
Good employers recognise that they have a duty of care for their employees, and being well prepared to offer bereavement support can significantly help employees to feel less isolated and more understood. Bereavement policies should provide holistic care and take the long-term impact of a loss into consideration, as well the employees’ unique needs. It is also important to remember that loss can affect anyone, not just women, so provide your male employees with the same support as you would anyone else.
Acknowledge the loss
It can be challenging not only as an employer but as a person, to know what to say to someone who has experienced a loss. Avoiding recognising someone’s loss, however, is only going to make them feel more alone and heighten their grief. For this reason, many parents who have lost a child say that they appreciate it when colleagues reach out to them to share their condolences. If you know the name of their child, use it in a sympathy card or when talking to them. This will acknowledge their child’s existence and is something that people have expressed that is important to them.
You may be worried about saying the wrong thing or offering too much or too little support, but since each person is unique, it’s important to ask them what level of support they want. Making the first move and simply offering space for someone to share their feelings can help them to feel that their loss is being acknowledged and how they feel heard.
Channel 4 and Monzo have recently announced policies to support staff who have experienced a pregnancy loss due to abortion, miscarriage or stillbirth, regardless of when it occurs in the pregnancy. Offering paid bereavement leave to grieving employees who experience this type of loss not only acknowledges what they’ve been through but can truly help them to heal, both physically and emotionally. Pretending nothing happened will only make things worse, so make sure not to tip-toe too lightly around someone's grief, but be sensitive and empathetic in your approach.
Be flexible and empathetic
A lack of support when employees return to work not only hinders their own mental health, but the standard of their work suffers too, which more than a third of employees have expressed experiencing. A serious void of empathy and understanding may also lead employees to leave their jobs, something one in ten employees have considered due to a lack of bereavement support.
While some might value getting back into the routine of work, others may appreciate having time and space to come to terms with their loss. Having a short conversation to establish how they’re feeling can be useful in helping you to establish the next steps.
While not all employees will know how to express their needs, picking up on subtle nuances of the conversation can help you to establish how to help. This can be as simple as making arrangements with their manager so tasks can be easily delegated to other team members, or their desk being moved away from a pregnant colleague. This not only alleviates the pressure on the team but ensures your employee knows their role is being covered, their wellbeing prioritised and there is no rush to get back to work.
Recognising that grief and trauma can be delayed, unpredictable and staggered is essential. An employee may suddenly and unexpectedly be overcome with a wave of sadness after a comment unintentionally triggers an upsetting memory, and therefore might have to leave work for a short break.
Direct to specialist support
Understanding that you might not have access to all the resources needed to properly support a bereaved employee is important. During this understandably challenging time, you might feel compelled to do everything “perfectly” in order to fully be there for your employee. However, taking on more than is possible can do more harm than good.
Additional help can be found via the NHS or through charities committed to supporting people who experienced a pregnancy loss in any form, such as Sands, Tommys and Miscarriage Association.