We hosted an online event with the Bank Workers Charity on 6th August 2021 looking at grief and loss, and the way it affects people.
We asked Paul Barrett, Head of Wellbeing at the Bank Workers Charity, to come and talk to our members about:
What grief is, and the different ways it affects people
The profound impact of loss during the pandemic
What you can do and say to be supportive
The well-meaning but unhelpful things to avoid doing or saying
What managers need to consider when supporting their colleagues
Paul began the session by defining grief and bereavement before looking at some of the common reactions we may have:
“We often think of grief as a psychological experience, but actually there are lots and lots of physical reactions that are commonly associated with grief.”
Many of us may have heard or be aware of the Kübler-Ross grief cycle which was developed in 1969 and set out 5 stages: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Until more recently this was the dominant way in which everybody considered to be the way in which we experience grief. But more recent research has shown that there's no evidence for this - and it's potentially damaging for people to think about their loss in this way, because what if you don't see yourself moving from one stage to the next?
That's why it's really important to talk about grief and loss, and to understand how this may present for someone. Not everyone will experience grief in the same way, and there may be physical as well as psychological responses that we experience. That's why we teamed up with the Bank Workers Charity for a wellbeing webinar focussing on this important topic.
You can access the recording below, along with links to download the slides and a link to our feedback survey.
The good news is, there are some steps we can take to better understand, recognise, and support colleagues that may be experiencing grief in the workplace:
Be reading to talk – talking about someone's loss if hugely important, many people process grief by telling their story, so listen.
Ask what they want – don't make assumptions or make comparisons to grief you may have felt.
Be aware of loneliness – be aware of how the person may be feeling, often the initial support of family and friends fades as people get on with their own lives and it can create a wasteland of nothingness.
Do acknowledge – sometimes we shy away from talking about death, or what has happened for fear of upsetting someone experiencing grief and loss. But it's hugely important to acknowledge what they're going through, so don't act like nothing has happened. If someone tells you they don't want to talk, that's fine, but don't ignore the situation or walk on eggshells around that person.
Avoid some phrases – we've all put our foot in it at some point in time but try to avoid this by expressing your condolences and asking what you can do and how they are today (this acknowledges that there may be up and down days). Don't say things like 'they had a good innings' or 'they're in a better place'.
Be a supportive manager – ask the colleague what information they want to share with their colleagues, use written communications to backup conversations if you can see someone's not taking things in, and consider how much time off someone may need in the circumstances. talking can help reduce the stigma and makes it easier for people to seek help when they need it.
Return to work – don't assume that someone returning to work is back to their usual self. It's important to consider what someone returning to work may feel capable of. Work can be an escape from the situation, but everyone is different and may feel differently about what work they can take on especially if they're experiencing physical symptoms of their grief. Flexibility is therefore important and be aware of landmark dates such as birthdays and anniversaries.
The most & least helpful things to say & do
In May 2018, the Co-Operative Funeralcare commissioned the first national survey of its kind into death, dying and bereavement. The information included here are the findings from the survey Making peace with death.