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A BEREAVED PERSON IN THE WORK COMMUNITY

Sähköiset lähteet: 

Kirjalliset lähteet:

  • Ahlström, M. (2017). Työhön paluu traumaattisen surun jälkeen – surevien kokemuksia työhön paluustaan. Pro gradu. Tampere: Tampereen yliopisto. Työn ja hyvinvoinnin maisteriohjelma.
  • Bath, D. (2009). Predicting Social Support for Grieving Persons: A Theory of Planned Behavior Perspective. Death Studies 33:10, s. 869–889.
  • Charles-Edwards, D. (2009). Empowering People at Work in the Face of Death and Bereavement. Death Studies 33:5, s. 420–436.
  • Dyregrov K., Dyregrov A. (2008). Effective Grief and Bereavement Support. The Role of Family, Friends, Colleagues, Schools and Support Professionals. Lontoo: JKP
  • Gibson, M., Joan, T. & Gallagher, A. (2011) Workplace support for traumatically bereaved people. Bereavement Care 30:2, s. 10–16
  • Kauppinen, K. Työ on henkireikä – työssäkäyvän läheisen kuolema, suru ja siitä selviäminen. Teoksessa Kauppinen K ja Silfver-Kuhalampi M. (toim.) (2015) Työssäkäynti ja läheis- ja omaishoiva – työssä jaksamisen ja jatkamisen tukeminen. Sosiaalitieteiden laitoksen julkaisuja 2015: 12, s. 95–131.
  • Poijula, S. (2018). Resilienssi – Muutosten kohtaamisen taito. Helsinki: Kirjapaja.

Muut lähteet: 

  • Keskustelut johdon kouluttaja, työnohjaaja Nenne Amnellin kanssa 12.9.2019
  • Keskustelut Suomen nuoret lesket ry:n kokemusasiantuntija Elisa Stenbergin kanssa 12.9.2019.
  • Muu Surevan kohtaaminen -hankkeen kokemusasiantuntijoilta ja surujärjestöjen työntekijöiltä saatu kokemusperäinen tieto.

How and why should an organisation prepare for losses experienced by their employees?

Why is it important for an organisation to consider bereaved employees?

  • A challenging situation is facilitated with a pre-prepared operating model, which everyone is aware of. For example, according to studies, those who have lost a family member feel mentally and physically better at a workplace, which has a pre-prepared strategy in case of employees’ personal crises.
  • Insufficient consideration may lead to longer sick leaves as well as problems with working capacity and operating in a work community.
  • Better support for employees in a difficult situation leads to better occupational well-being and, in the long term, increases work productivity. Taking care of their employees is also an advantage for the organisation.
  • A well-prepared work community is more resilient. This means that the organisation will cope better with changes and will also be able to utilise the work effort of employees who are going through challenging life situations.

How can an organisation prepare for employees’ personal crises?

  • Take the possibility of death into consideration in the workplace’s crisis plan Each workplace should also have a working capacity early support model, which helps support employees in difficult life situations.  
  • An organisation should create a framework, which allows supervisors and colleagues to better support a bereaved person. It is the supervisors’ duty to agree with the employee and occupational healthcare about the actions, which facilitate the bereaved person’s return to work and ensure that the entire work community can support the bereaved person.
  • Under the following titles, please read about what should be considered before a bereaved person returns to work when returning to work and in the long-term. Then, take these issues into account in the workplace’s crisis plan and other necessary plans.

What to do in case of a colleague’s death?

The death of a colleague will impact the entire work community and may cause the operations of the whole workplace to be suspended temporarily. Furthermore, the event may cause shock and grief in the employees as well as concern about how matters will be arranged in the future. Therefore, in case of a death that affects the work community, it is recommended to utilise professional help to overcome the situation. For this purpose, the workplace’s supervisor or HR worker can contact the occupational health services through which it is possible to obtain the help of, for example, an occupational psychologist.

How to consider an employee before they return to work?

An organisation should consider their employee’s changed situation as soon as they become aware of it. The death of a family member can be very sudden, or it can be anticipated. An employee may take time off work already before the death of a family member, for example, to participate in palliative care.

Give your condolences and ask what the bereaved person needs.

  • An employer shares their condolences. An employer must give their condolences as well as lead and initiate any support measures. It is good for a supervisor to contact the bereaved person personally.

    Suitable condolence is considered a flower delivery, but, for example, help with everyday life may also be necessary.

  • An employer must ask the bereaved person what sort of support they would like from their work community.
  • The employer shall inform others about the situation in accordance with the employee’s wishes. Members of a work community will want information about the crisis, but information is only provided at the terms of the bereaved person. Not everyone will want their colleagues to know about their situation.
  • The work community shares their condolences. The supervisor shall convey the bereaved person’s wishes to the work community: for example, how and when they wish to speak about the events with their colleagues. The bereaved person must be allowed to choose not to talk about the events at their workplace.
  • Maintain contact during sick leave. It is easier to return to work when the bereaved person’s connection with the workplace has been maintained during the sick leave.

Sick leave and other absences

The need for a sick leave following the death of a family member is very individual. Some people need an extended sick leave to be able to work again, while others want to return to work very soon. Returning to work often helps with recovery because it signifies a return to “normal life” after a crisis.

It is good for an employer to encourage and support a bereaved person in returning to work. Still, on the other hand, it is important to show understanding towards any absences.

The employer must ensure that the bereaved person has access to occupational health services and that the sick leaves are agreed upon together with the employee and occupational healthcare. The bereaved person’s own experience of their own working capacity is in a critical position.

A sick leave requires a diagnosis from a physician. Unfortunately, temporary incapacity to work caused by a loss often leads to incorrect diagnoses of depression.

Employers should consider practices for enabling an employee to be absent, for example, during palliative care. For the possibility of the palliative care of an employee’s family member, it is worth having a valid principal decision in place at the workplace on how to proceed in such situations because the need for palliative care in Europe is anticipated to increase in the next few years according to Duodecum’s Current Care Guidelines website, which also offers more information about palliative care.

How to support an employee when they return to work?

  • The employer must provide the bereaved person with opportunities to process the events according to their wishes. These opportunities can be, for example, a memorial where the bereaved person can talk about their deceased family member or a discussion led by a third-party professional.
  • The employer can organise trialogues together with occupational healthcare. Trialogues are only arranged at the consent of the employee, but the employer can take the initiative. During a trialogue, the bereaved person’s needs and wishes are reviewed and what arrangements would best support the bereaved person’s working capacity.  
  • It is recommended that the employer and employee conclude a written return-to-work plan before actually returning to work. The plan sets out all the agreed arrangements related to facilitating working capacity after returning from sick leave.  
  • The employer must arrange the return to work and the necessary support measures in a controlled manner. It is important to be aware of the loss’s effect on the employee’s life and working capacity. On the other hand, the employee should not be underrated: grief does not make you more stupid even if it can temporarily affect memory and general coping.
  • The employer must consider the family situation of the bereaved person. If, for example, one of the guardians or one of the children of a family dies, the situation often requires special arrangements. Thus, for example, some flexibility with working hours may be necessary in order to arrange childcare.

What if the bereaved person is ready to return to work but does not have total working capacity?

Supporting a bereaved person to return to work is worthwhile even if the bereaved person is not immediately ready to carry out the same work duties and at the same pace as before the event. There are many methods, which can be used to help readapt the bereaved person. However, the methods are temporary: returning to a normal state must be done in a controlled manner and at a suitable pace for the bereaved person.

  • Reducing working hours. Partial sickness allowance can be granted when the previously full-time working hours are reduced by 40-60%. Kela pays partial sickness allowance.  
  • Flexible working hours. Additional flexibility can be agreed upon with the employee in order to support their working capacity.  
  • Possibility of remote work. The possibility to do more work remotely from home.
  • Rearrangement of work duties. Rearrangement is carried out in accordance with the employee’s wishes and in collaboration with the employee.

How to support the work community of a bereaved person?

  • A work community needs support when a member of the community encounters grief. It is a supervisor’s duty to help the work community encounter the bereaved person by discussing, listening, conveying information, and providing guidance.
  • The members of a work community find it easier if encountering a bereaved person is discussed together. In the work community, it can be considered what thoughts and feelings the situation cause in them. In these situations, it is important that the supervisor probes whether these discussions should be held privately with the employee or together with the entire team. As in the case of encountering a bereaved person, it is worth asking the employees encountering a bereaved person directly about their thoughts.
  • A supervisor often operates as the link between the bereaved person and the work community. As a result, the work community may find it easier to hear how the bereaved person hopes to be approached. However, the supervisor must maintain the trust of the bereaved person and only disclose such matters that have been agreed to together with the bereaved person.
  • The supervisor ensures that the absence of the bereaved person does not put a strain on the rest of the work community. In addition to this, it is important to understand that the situation can also add mental stress and be visible in the work performance of the other members of the work community.

How a work community can prepare for a bereaved person returning to work:

  • Consider together what a good encounter would be like so that the situation doesn’t seem so scary.
  • Consider and agree, how you will together ensure that the return for the bereaved person is a positive experience.
  • It would be very good if you, as the supervisor, could convey any wishes presented by the bereaved person to the work community at this point.

Supervisor, don’t forget about your own resources

  • The situation can be challenging for the supervisor’s own resources because processing difficult matters and helping others impacts your own coping. Therefore, it is important that the supervisor takes care of their own well-being and, if necessary, asks for help from their own supervisor or occupational healthcare.
  • Difficult situations and major life crises often occur suddenly and can cause a lot of personal strain for the supervisor. For example, a homicide, the death of a child, accidents and suicides easily raise various emotions, which may be difficult to encounter.
  • A supervisor must be aware that a bereaved person may behave differently. They may be angry, easily irritated, antisocial, bitter, and depressed. They may want to talk about their experiences repeatedly, or they may remain silent about everything.
  • Suppose a supervisor’s own resources and skills are not sufficient, or the bereaved person needs more help than the supervisor’s professional capacities provide. In that case, the supervisor should contact occupational health services to obtain further assistance.

How to support a bereaved person in the long term?

The impact the loss of a family member has on an employee’s life are far-reaching. But, unfortunately, the awareness of a bereaved person often ends too soon.

  • The monitoring of a bereaved person’s well-being and working capacity should be done automatically. Working capacity can be monitored, for example, with regular meetings with the supervisor and occupational healthcare.
  • The well-being of a bereaved person can be asked even after a long time.  For example, during occupational health checks and development discussions, it is important to pay attention to the impact the loss has had on the current situation, even if it took place a long time ago. Furthermore, most bereaved people appreciate that supervisors and colleagues show their care by asking how they are and showing that they remember the deceased person.

  • Grief becomes part of the bereaved person’s life experience and life, but it is not forgotten. Therefore, it is good for the work community to remember that sometimes the birthday or death anniversary of a deceased family member, or another important day related to the deceased family member, may heighten the grief in the thoughts of the bereaved person even a long time after the loss.