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4 min read

How startups can support employees through their grief

How startups can support employees through their grief

Table of Contents

At some point, all of us will lose someone close to us (if we haven't already). We don’t need to explain the sense of sadness and loss that comes with that. Or how, in a split second, everything can change.

During these times, being productive is almost impossible. For startups, supporting employees through their grief is important.

Not only does this help your employees to feel connected and respected on a human level, but it also helps you to stand out above the rest - far too many businesses focus on numbers and productivity and nothing else.

Have a heart! Your employees are your biggest asset, after all. 

Grief affects you in more ways than you know 

At Vestd, we try our very best to support each other. That's why we have a generous compassionate leave and bereavement policy that even includes pets (because pets are a part of the family too).

We appreciate that grief isn’t something you can work through to the best of your ability, nor should you have to. 

Let’s be honest, if your mind is on a loss, you’re not going to work in the same way. You may overlook important details or make mistakes and your productivity levels will tank, temporarily at least.

That's because grief affects us on a neurological level. It can shut down certain parts of your brain and leave you unable to focus on anything but the person you’ve lost. During this time, it's no surprise that many of us can’t think straight.

So, how can you support your employees through difficult times?

What can startups do to help employees dealing with loss?

Communicate with empathy

The most important thing to remember here is that experiencing loss is the most human thing in the world. It knocks everything else off the perch of importance and makes us realise our place in the world. For that reason, treating your employees with compassion and empathy is vital. 

Some people feel uncomfortable talking about grief and loss, which is perfectly normal. But the leaders in your team must be able to express empathy and support employees going through a hard time. 

With that in mind, focus on developing 'soft skills' among leaders, and provide appropriate training to guide them on what to say and what steps to take in difficult situations.

In written communication, avoid corporate language and technical jargon. You don’t want to overwhelm them any more than they already are. Keep it simple and compassionate, but don’t tiptoe around the situation either. 

People don’t want to be told that they’ll be fine in a few weeks or that it’s all going to be okay. It might be true, but it’s better to tell them that you’re there for them if they need anything and you’ll do what you can to support them. 

Create a compassionate, compassionate leave policy

The most basic thing an employee needs is time. You cannot expect your employees to work through grief - it won’t create good results for the business and will probably lead to resentment. 

That's where compassionate leave comes in. Contrary to popular belief, compassionate leave is not just related to death.

Legally, employees in the UK have the right to take time off work to deal with an emergency involving a dependent. E.g. a close relative suddenly falls ill or if they're a parent and there's an unexpected incident at their child's school.

However, that time off can be paid or unpaid; the decision is up to the employer. Many businesses don’t offer paid compassionate leave. And in most cases, businesses that do offer paid leave only offer one or two days. 

Your compassionate leave policy should be flexible and generous enough to support employees struggling under an array of circumstances. 

Farewill, a company specialising in wills, probate and funerals, offer their employees 10 days of additional paid leave so that they can grieve and get the support they need. 

If your employees need more time, as many will, you can discuss with them how you can best support them at this time and perhaps even offer flexible working or a phased return.

Don't fixate on closeness

Speaking of circumstances, many businesses only give compassionate leave when it's a close relative who has passed away. But how can you define what ‘close’ means when everyone and every family is different?

For that reason, it’s better to not ask about closeness and simply focus on the fact they’re grieving. A loss is a loss, so respect what it means to that person.

By not putting pressure on your employees to return to work quickly, you’re allowing them to overcome their heightened emotions slowly and take the time they need. 

Include pregnancy loss

It's estimated that about one in eight pregnancies will end in miscarriage. And yet, the only real guidance for companies on compassionate leave is around the death of a child or a stillbirth and even then it's still not a legal requirement.

Pregnancy loss can have a huge emotional and physical impact on the parents and their loved ones. So, be sure to cover pregnancy loss in all circumstances in your compassionate leave policy.

Prioritise mental health and wellbeing

Depending on the circumstances, an employee may benefit greatly from talking to a professional who is experienced in dealing with grief. Consider what external mental and emotional support your company could provide.

We know that not every startup can afford private healthcare for the whole team, but with a range of providers and options, including online therapy providers like My Therapy Assistant, it's worth exploring all the same.

Putting emotions to one side, a study by Deloitte suggests that this also makes business sense, estimating that for every £1 spent by employers on mental health interventions, employers could get back £5.30 in reduced absence, presenteeism, and staff turnover. 

Key takeaways

Dealing with difficult situations is part and parcel of running a business, but it’s also a part of being a human. When you have an employee who is dealing with grief, tap into your own experiences and show empathy. 

Grief affects the human brain and drastically reduces decision-making and productivity. It’s simply not possible for someone to work to the best of their ability when dealing with loss.

When you understand this fact, you can support your employees much better. And employees that feel supported and valued are much more likely to be loyal. 

We have tons of resources to support startups throughout their journey. And if you want to explore meaningful employee benefits like equity rewards, you know who to call.

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