Home' HR Monthly : April 2019 Contents 24
he number of Australians that will
die per year is going to double in the
nex t 25 years. Sixty-seven per cent of
employees continue working while undergoing
treatment for an illness and 94 per cent of
carers balance work with their personal
If this sounds a little too matter-of-fact,
that’s by design. Jessie Williams, CEO of
The GroundSwell Project – the organisation
behind these statistics – says talking factually
about death is the first step towards a healthy
outlook on the end of life.
Williams’ pathway to GroundSwell came
from lived experience. In 2006, her baby died
during labour, and her workplace’s positive
and proactive approach in supporting her
transition back to work is what encou raged
her to help other organisations do the same.
“That terrible situation turned into an
incredibly transformative experience for not
only myself, but also for the team. They did it
right. They created space for people to talk and
have a reaction,” she says.
What are some of the practical steps that
HR can take to facilitate a positive culture
around death and grieving? Williams offers the
DON’T SHY AWAY
“Don’t avoid the staff member. If it
causes you to have a reaction, you
need to notice that and respond,” she says.
She suggests starting by asking people how
the funeral was. “People ask about weddings
all the time. This is just another event.” She
also emphasises the importance of saying the
name of the person who has died.
DEVELOP DEATH LITERACY
It’s important to give people the
practical know-how of how to
respond to death. This could mean getting up
to speed with the facts around your company’s
policies on bereavement leave and the
appropriate things to say.
If you’re at a loss at what to say, she suggests
saying, “I don’t know what to say,” or “I can’t
imagine how hard this must be for you.” Both
are good fallbacks because they demonstrate
empathy, not sympathy.
“Empathy is the ability to be able to pause on
trying to placate something and instead just be
present with the person who is suffering.”
FACILITATE INVISIBLE CARE
Williams recalls her boss saying to her
friends at work, “You have a mandate
that you will have cups of coffee with Jessie
whenever she needs it”. Little things like that
can really help. They don’t need to be apparent
to the person who’s grieving.
PROVIDE PRACTICAL ASSISTANCE
Rather than asking “How are you?”,
Williams suggests asking, “What do
you need?” Check in with the grieving person
and ask something like, “Do you need your
“You don’t want people to run off and get
excited about raising thousands of dollars to
pay for something that person doesn’t need.
Care, compassion and kindness are micro.
They’re often small things that create a sense of
PUT YOUR HEART ON YOUR
If you’re comfortable doing so, a great
way to instil a healthy culture around death is
to share your own experiences, says Williams.
“I’ve heard stories about CEOs who’ve
talked publicly in their workplaces about losses
they’ve experienced. Whenever you’ve got an
opportunity to put a difficult topic on the table,
put it to you r people who’d like to speak about
it.” Never make these discussions mandatory; it
must always be voluntary.
“Recognise that loss comes in all shapes and
sizes. For some, the death of a cat can feel as
bad as the death of a baby. Don’t minimise loss
based on your opinions.” •••
The right kind of compassion can be a big help when a work
colleague is dealing with the death of a loved one.
BY K ATE NEILSON
grief at work
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