Just over a week ago, Christians around the world commemorated Good Friday. We know the story well: three days later, the tears of Good Friday were wiped away on Easter.

For those of us who have lost a loved one, we can relate to the story of Good Friday: Sadness, despair, hopelessness, darkness. For us, however, the overwhelming grief of our own Good Friday doesn’t end in three days.

It takes much longer.

Months, years.

Sometimes, never.

How Can an Employer Help an Employee Grieving the Loss of a Loved One?

Employers have a critical role to play when an employee suffers a loss. Let’s start with meaningful, paid bereavement leave.

Raise your hand if you have a paid bereavement policy.

That’s not enough hands. If you don’t have a paid bereavement policy, draft it into being now.

Bereavement leave fosters a productive workplace because it gives employees time to grieve and recover from their loss. It also promotes loyalty to your organization because your decision to offer employees paid time off at one of life’s most difficult moments is a sign of your empathy and compassion.

Earlier this year, I discussed the importance of paid bereavement leave with Joyal Mulheron, founder of Evermore, a national nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of bereaved children and families. In our one-hour confab (posted on YouTube), we discussed how the FMLA might cover bereavement leave (unfortunately, it rarely does) and the communication necessary between employee and employer when an employee is feeling the effects of losing a loved one.

In addition to a paid bereavement policy, there are other meaningful ways to help our employee with a loss. To be clear, we’re not trained counselors, but we care. And our actions should be guided by empathy.

Consider the following:

  1. Providing employees flexibility in returning to work and let the employee know to stay in contact if they need more time.
  2. Offering a period of flexible hours or the ability to work remotely. Return immediately to full-time work may be difficult for the employee, but having options to work remotely for a transition period may very well help them manage a comfortable return to work.
  3. Losing a loved one can be an isolating experience and it may choose to keep things bottled up. Checking in with them to show they matter to you even when road ahead is a difficult one.
  4. Keeping an open dialogue, ensuring they know that you are available if they need anything, whether it’s related to work or personal life. No need to hound them — they just need to know they have a support system at work.
  5. Acknowledge and celebrate their loved one. A bouquet of flowers. A card. Consider asking how you can honor the loss of their loved one. Some of your employees may be less comfortable than others with your signs of support, so so recognize their boundaries in an effort to show you care.
  6. Remember: we’re not trained to be our employee’s therapist. Don’t take on their emotional load, and don’t assume what they should be feeling or that you know how to help fix their situation.  Just listen and let them know you are present for them.  
  7. Consider a sick leave bank to which employees donate some of their paid and sick leave time, and allow employees to draw from the bank for bereavement leave.

In addition to the above, find local organizations who help people overcome loss. For instance, I think of a local organization in my home town, Pillars Community Health, which operates Buddy’s Place, which is a childhood bereavement program offering family-based support to children and teens ages 4-18 and their families who are grieving the death of someone significant in their lives. Organizations like these need our help.

Consider also supporting organizations like Evermore, which exist to support those who have suffered loss and help foster meaningful conversations between employees and employers about the grieving process. Learn more about Evermore here.

Finally, I regret to report that there is no legislation pending in Congress right now making bereavement leave a qualifying reason for FMLA leave. This is low-hanging FMLA fruit, isn’t it? Yet, the reality of paid (or even unpaid) bereavement leave as a protected FMLA reason seems so far out of reach. To do right by their employees, employers should take the lead in supporting such a measure.

I’d love to hear from you – what do you do to help your employees during the grieving process?