Council Post: Mental Health Awareness: 13 Ways HR Managers Can Offer Grief Support At Work


Life is a challenge. When employees are faced with hardships or tragedies—at home or sometimes even in the workplace—it can seem overwhelming, but leaders can help by giving them support and directing them to the right resources. No matter what type of circumstance they may be going through, outreach from management can ease the pressure and give them hope to keep going, especially once they realize there is alternative support in place and available at their fingertips.

When staff members are feeling less anxious, it can help them refocus on the work projects they enjoy engaging in every day. Below, 13 HR experts from Forbes Human Resources Council provide information on tangible ways HR management can serve employees who may still be grappling with their grief over a loss on or off the job.

1. Provide Employees With Access To A Grief Counselor

There is so much happening in the world today, with suicides, divorces, various tragedies and losses. So, provide employees with a grief counselor or access to one to address their personal needs. If the loss or tragedy occurred on site, it is definitely highly recommended to bring in a grief counselor to the organization to assist the team with navigating the loss, especially if it was someone in a leadership role. The employment assistance program is also another alternative. – Tish Hodge, The Shine Institute

2. Show Genuine One-On-One Support

I have lost many people in my life, and the simple answer is that it is never easy. Letting others know that people understand, that grief is a journey and that you are there to support them is the most critical part. Sadly, there is no magic button—the adjustment of learning how to carry on without the missing piece is only something that can be achieved in time. – Alex Cooke, Phase 3

3. Keep Checking In Over The Following Weeks And Months

After a tragedy, the majority of the support comes in the weeks or months immediately following the event. HR pros should be prepared to reach out once that time has passed as employees navigate a year of firsts since the loss. With the manager, ask the employee to reflect on their role as their needs and priorities may have changed and proactively determine what accommodations the organization can provide. – Jessica Adams, Brad’s Deals

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4. Find Out What Resources Employees And Managers Need

Having and employing a high degree of empathy and compassion is a critical trait for any successful leader. For HR, it’s important to be aware of these employee matters when they arise so that both the manager and employee can be appropriately supported. Checking in with both employees and managers is critical, as is making resources available through assistance programs. – Elizabeth Corey, Velosio

5. Promote The Employee Assistance Program

Before loss occurs, be sure to regularly share with employees the resources you have, including an employee assistance program and time off. Most employees absorb little during orientation beyond the required paperwork for payroll and benefits. Tragedies can occur on the micro and macro level, so when something does occur, reshare your benefits, communicate understanding and empathy and be present to lend support. – Cat Colella-Graham

6. Give Employees Time And Space To Grieve

As leaders, we can support grieving employees by genuinely expressing empathy and allowing them time and space to grieve. Providing support for immediate needs is crucial. Working with an employee to schedule time off, reassign tasks to other workers or implement remote work arrangements, if they are not already in place within the company, goes a long way toward easing an employee’s burden. – Laura Spawn, Virtual Vocations, Inc.

7. Coach Managers To Build Trust

HR’s role or strategy in supporting employee loss is to remove obstacles for employees so they can focus on their grief. Remind them of their options like time off and EAPs, deliver communications so the employee doesn’t have to and coach managers to build trust. This is a moment to remind employees their company supports them as a person, not a cog. – Jessica Wallen, Wurl, LLC

8. Be A Good Listener

In general, any loss for a human being can lead to vulnerability and not being able to comprehend and process the loss. So, it is important for every leader to show empathy by listening to the affected employee and providing confidence, hope and the required strength to get over the situation. Also, it will be helpful to follow up on a regular basis so they feel cared for and a part of the work family. – Prakash Raichur, Taghleef Industries

9. Provide Clear, Automated Policies That Are Easily Accessible

When employees are grieving, they don’t want to deal with tedious work friction or incomplete guidance. HR leaders can be proactive by having clear, automated policies in place that outline who to contact if grieving, how much time off you have based upon the tragedy, any outlet for appeal and any options for unpaid leave or job-protected leave in the event you need more time. – Joey Price, Jumpstart HR LLC

10. Implement A Flexible Work Schedule

Leaders should be supportive of the unique cultural and religious needs of their employees when it comes to grieving. Providing a flexible work schedule or opportunities for employees to take a leave of absence can help employees process their grief. – Jonathan Romley, Lundi

11. Make Yourself Available

The best gift during times of grief is to offer a “lasting presence.” Anyone can give sympathy immediately after a loss or tragedy, but what shows true value is when HR leaders can demonstrate that the care and concern are continuous. Checking in regularly via messaging or calls, taking the initiative to explore making work schedules more accommodating and providing coping resources can do this. – Tiersa Smith-Hall, Impactful Imprints, Training & Consulting

12. Lighten Their Workload

When employees suffer a personal loss, they may need support from managers and co-workers. This could include more flexible scheduling, a temporarily lighter workload, social events or more regular check-ins. HR should also privately advise employees to take advantage of any employee assistance programs, which offer access to guidance, counseling and additional resources, free of charge. – Niki Jorgensen, Insperity

13. Ask Questions And Be Honest About Any Limitations

HR leaders can be empathetic and supportive, not just about time off but also with coaching management on dealing with employees during these difficult times. Support can be simply checking in, not to discuss the policy, practice or benefits, but to check in on their well-being and see how the company can continue to best support them through this time while being honest about the company’s limitations. – Evelyn Reed, HR Jawn

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