If passed, new laws that give employees the right to two weeks’ paid leave if they suffer the loss of a child would be a significant step forward in supporting grieving parents in the short term. However, employers also need to consider how to support grieving parents well beyond this fortnight and should not overlook the impact on the employee’s close colleagues too.

No one expects that their child will die before them as this is not the order of things and when this tragedy does occur, the shock and disbelief is overwhelming.

The most effective approach any organisation can take is to acknowledge the employee’s loss and ask how the company can help: everyone’s grief is unique and the way one parent responds to the death of a child may be very different from another.

Coping strategies

It can take weeks, months or even years to make sense of the loss of a child, so whilst this new parliamentary bill is very much a step in the right direction and helpful in highlighting the issue, two weeks’ paid leave doesn’t even begin to touch the sides. Employers need to ensure they have an open dialogue with bereaved staff and think beyond the short term.

Some employees may find that being in work is a helpful distraction from their loss, but employers need to take their lead from the bereaved individual in terms of how much they want to work, how much they want to talk about their child’s death and what would help them most. Flexible working hours, flexible locations, extended breaks in the working day may all be beneficial to help deal with the various symptoms of grief such as sleep disturbance, anxiety, anger, lack of concentration etc. – the employee is unlikely to be able to return to their usual capacity for quite some time so employers’ expectations need to be suitably adjusted and line managers suitably briefed.

Support for colleagues

Colleagues and managers may also be unsure about how to handle the situation which can lead to a general lack of communication in order to ‘not say the wrong thing’. This can cause additional stress for the bereaved if they feel they are being excluded or treated differently.

It is often beneficial for employers to discuss the situation with staff so that they feel supported themselves and are also aware of the way the organisation is supporting the individual too and crucially, the way the individual has requested to receive that support.

Third party support

Both the grieving parent and close colleagues may benefit from the expertise of a third party to help them deal with their feelings and come to terms with the loss. This can be delivered directly or offered as an added-value service such as via employee assistance programmes, protection insurance, private medical insurance and cashplans.

Insurers and employers should be aware that the content of such support services can vary significantly: where very light-touch helplines are provided, the continuity and content of the support is likely to be lacking. Employers should ensure they are comparing like for like when insurers are promoting the added value elements of their policies.

In summary

There is no ‘right way’ to grieve, and therefore a very specific, one-size-fits-all policy simply doesn’t work in most cases. Employers need to be flexible and think beyond the government’s proposed two-week period if they really want to help staff at this extremely harrowing time.

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