How to Support Your Team with Their Grief
Express your sympathy / condolences; it’s okay to acknowledge what’s happened and to express your sympathy to the family. The worst thing you can do is carry on like nothing has happened. Realise they may need to talk about this and yes even at work; everyone grieves in their own private way. Some people retreat into a private shell, whereas others have a need to talk about what’s happening. When a surviving victim of homicide returns to work, they often have a lessened capacity to talk about things with their families; therefore be prepared that they may need to share their worries with you. It’s okay to listen and even to respond.
Realise it may be in the newspaper or on TV; your colleagues’ grief is no longer private, therefore it may appear in the newspaper or on the news, particularly following the crime itself, and around the time of court proceedings. You might like to reconsider how you allow the media into your workplace at these times, for example, choose to have a CD playing rather than the radio or TV to avoid hearing such coverage. If it is a high profile homicide case we would also suggest removing any newspapers that may usually be found in the workplace. Continue to think of them around significant events; such as Christmas, Mothers and Fathers Days and birthdays as these can all be troubling times made worse by the celebrations going on around them. Remember, it’s okay to ask them how they are going around these times. Consider donating your leave; you may wish to consider donating a portion of your annual leave to your colleague as a practical way of showing your support.
- Think outside of the box for ways you can provide support; for example, offering paid compassionate leave, or unconditional paid or unpaid leave, alternatively you might like to organise professional counselling for your team member and other members of their family.
- Consider a change of duties; whilst someone experiencing bereavement is often able to return to work, they may face difficulties in resuming their prior duties. For example, someone previously employed in sales, might struggle to display the same level of energy and enthusiasm required for this type of work. You may like to talk to your team-member about modifying their work duties or hours in the short term.
- Let them know it’s okay to take time off; QHVSG often finds families feel extremely guilty asking for time off when a homicide is involved. Remember, the need for time off is completely reasonable given the tragic circumstances they are facing. Acknowledge to your employee that it is okay for them to take time away from work.
- Consider also that families often don’t have answers to your questions such as ‘How much time will you need off’?” or “Will you need time off again down the track?”. These types of questions only add pressure to someone who is already struggling to deal with an immensely challenging situation.
- Realise your employee’s life has taken a dramatic turn; a homicide is a significant life trauma and your employee will need time to adjust to this. The legal proceedings themselves may take up to three or more years to complete, during which time your employee’s personal life will be caught up in media, investigations, and winding up financial and or custody matters. Whilst this is disruptive to both your employee’s life and you as an employer, acknowledgement of the issue and a resolution to work on solutions together should help to ease the process for both parties.
- Realize that colleagues may be affected too, or they might want to do something to show their combined support, for example they might like to fundraise for the family or wear a black armband on a certain day to show their respect or plant a tree in their memory.