Why leaders must support bereaved employees

Post author image. Guest Editor
An image of Isabelle Haigh, Head of Plant Operations, Gas Transmission at National Grid writes of death , bereavement and grief.

Isabelle Haigh of National Grid has worked alongside Business in the Community (BITC) and KPMG to provide employers with the toolkit COVID-19: The Impact on Death, Bereavement and Grief. She discusses how COVID-19 presents “additional challenges to coping with death and bereavement”.

Many people find responding to death and bereavement difficult – we might never be quite sure what to say, or how to react or respond appropriately. Sometimes the fear of saying or doing the wrong thing holds us back in saying anything at all. This can be more apparent in the business environment where there may be some colleagues who you don’t know particularly well. 

The COVID-19 pandemic presents additional challenges to coping with death and bereavement: many of us are working in a virtual environment; people’s loved ones may be dying without the contact they would normally have; and the grieving process can be significantly affected by the inability to carry out ceremonies in the way one might wish. At this time, more than ever before, we should be providing appropriate support to all our colleagues. 

People experience bereavement in different ways. I know from my own experience that a return to the workplace can be very challenging, particularly in the UK, as the grieving individual may feel that it is their place to make others feel comfortable. I hope that managers and colleagues will be able to draw on the support provided in the toolkit, COVID-19: The impact on death, bereavement and grief, to give practical support to those who may be experiencing grief. 

“We all like solutions and its human nature to want to ‘put things right’. Death, and the effects of death on those left behind, does not work that way.”

It’s essential to remember that everyone experiences death and bereavement differently – not everyone will want to talk but, in most circumstances, once people feel it safe to talk, they benefit enormously from sharing their experience. I hope this toolkit will help to enable businesses to encourage those discussions to take place. 

We all like solutions and its human nature to want to ‘put things right’. Death, and the effects of death on those left behind, does not work that way. This toolkit is not a solution, it is a provocation to responsible leaders to consider and provide support and, most importantly, to have conversations and encourage sharing experiences. 

I am thankful for the opportunity to work alongside BITC and KPMG on this project and I am comforted that the toolkit will be available in the wider community, in particular for smaller businesses to offer practical advice and support for people when they need it most. 

Isabelle Haigh is Head of Plant Operations, Gas Transmission at National Grid

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