Home' HR Monthly : April 2016 Contents FEATURE: BEREAVEMENT
someone is returning to work. And, importantly, managers should keep
abreast of an individual’s situation, whether they are at work or not.
With the rise of social media, the risks of getting it wrong can go well
beyond the experience of an individual employee, to affect the culture of
an entire organisation. “Organisations should understand that they need
to fill the void in communication in an appropriate way, especially with the
family,” says Coventry. “If they don’t , there’s the potential for social media
to fill the void.”
A key misstep to avoid is not acknowledging the family and their wishes.
“This could easily lead to cultural harm, with close colleagues not getting
‘back on the horse’ again,” she says.
TAKING TIME OFF
A crucial question is how much time a bereaved staff member should be
absent. Some companies have unlimited leave in the case of, say, the death
of a spouse. Others may offer as little as three days, making bereavement, as
Chris Hall puts it, “sound like it’s a case of the ‘f lu”.
Importantly, leaders should never assume that a bereaved staff member
wants to stay away from work, as routine and structure can sometimes assist
in healing. “Leaders need to be aware that some people don’t want time
off from work – and can change their mind over this,” says Brighton-Hall.
“Remember to find out how they are rather than telling them what they’re
missing at work.”
Brighton-Hall recalls one incident where the best of intentions
led to the opposite of the desired results. Following the
death of an employee’s daughter in an accident, her
boss told her to ‘take as much time as you need’.
He then had no contact with the employee,
and discouraged staff from contacting her,
in the name of giving her ‘space’. The next
communication the woman received was 14
months later, when the company threatened to
terminate her contract, on the basis that she had
abandoned her employment.
On returning to work, employees can carry a range of
fears, such as controlling their emotions, or being behind in
their work. “Managers need to understand it’s really hard to come
back after, say, six months,” says Brighton-Hall. “Suggest going part-time, or
just dropping in for a coffee in the first instance, to remove the discomfort.”
Although the majority of staff will eventually want to come back to work,
a minority will not. “If you believe someone’s not coming back, start the
conversation,” says Brighton-Hall. “Avoid making it a disciplinary thing –
make it a positive thing instead.”
Robbi Chaplin has nothing but positive things to say about The Red
Cross’s treatment of her during her bereavement. Despite this support,
Chaplin chose to resign from her post in June 2015.
“It was a senior role, and you had to be operating at the top of your game
all the time, and I wasn’t – even though my employers were happy. I needed
time out, to grieve well, and to try to smell the roses again.”
For more information on this topic, see AHRI’s information sheets and
guidelines on ahri.com.au /assist
Individual bereavements are something
that are likely to occur in organisations
of any size. But larger tragedies, such as
bushfires and floods, can also impact on
an organisation, through the deaths of staff
members, clients or customers.
“If an event occurs that is emotional for
a whole city or country, then this needs to
be acknowledged by senior leaders f rom the
company,” says Brighton-Hall.
She was working at the Commonwealth
Bank during the Queensland floods
of 2010-11, when the ba nk lost eight
customers in one town. Afterwards, the
executive team spent time visiting regional
areas, talking with the staff who had
directly experienced the floods, listening
and acknowledging thei r efforts.
Brighton-Hall was also working for
Luxottica (owner of Sunglass Hut and
other eyewear brands) at the time of the
2009 Victorian bushfires, where that
company also lost customers. “What we
learned from that experience is to make
your response as relevant as it can be for
the local employees involved.”
The company contacted an employee in
the affected town, and asked: ‘What can we
do?’. The employee requested the company
provide emergency eyewear, and small
amounts of money for local kids – and
Sunglass Hut obliged. “Empower your
employees who are closest to where people
have been directly impacted,” advises
April 2016 HRMonthly 21
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