Employer Sympathy: You Have One Opportunity to Get This Right
How can an employer demonstrate sympathy as an employee copes with grief and loss following the death of a loved one?
By David Cox | December 03, 2019
Employer sympathy requires leadership
Employer sympathy during bereavement demonstrates leadership and compassion for an employee and family suffering the loss of a loved one. As a search engine optimization (SEO) writer for ThirdPartyBlogger.com, my clients work hard every day to build businesses and develop organizations.
Admittedly, demonstrating compassion towards bereaved employees won’t likely increase profitability. Nevertheless, in these painful moments, doing so not only provides comfort, it further demonstrates your leadership.
Unquestionably, when an employee loses a loved one, employer sympathy should be extended to the bereaved family. As such, the employer sets an example that becomes a standard at work. I’ve seen business, and organizational leaders demonstrate this attribute in exemplary fashion over the last 25 years.
These employers acted not merely because it was appropriate, but because it was the right thing to do. As such, the topic is too important to ignore. You have one opportunity to get this right, and as these situations arise, the employer must be ready.
Employer sympathy requires preparation
You may not want to think about death, grief, and loss. Nevertheless, the death of a loved one is a critical moment for bereaved employees, and what we say and do will be remembered.
What questions run through your mind when you hear that an employee has experienced a death in his/her family? Do you fear you’ll say something wrong or do something that will make him/her feel even worse? Have you ever ended up not doing or saying anything and later regretting it?
Employer sympathy is undoubtedly a leadership responsibility for which appropriate responses and actions are essential.
Employee bereavement represents a unique leadership opportunity
There is no higher call for employer leadership than when an employee experiences the death of a family member. Thus, when the news of a death in the employee’s family becomes public, the employer must step up to this critical role.
No matter what the organization does traditionally (cards, flowers, food, etc.), demonstrating sympathy requires a personal approach. Often, the kindest thing an employer can do is to acknowledge the loss personally and show that you care. Don’t withhold your support because you’re uncomfortable. It’s not about you.
Employer sympathy calls for your presence
There is nothing that will demonstrate employer sympathy more than your presence. You want your presence to have a positive impact on the bereaved employee and family. I offer the following seven suggestions to help you prepare to express and demonstrate sympathy on behalf of you and your organization.
1. Attend a visitation or family gathering
If you do, introduce yourself to those present and spend some time with the family. No one should have to wonder who you are or why you’re attending. Be prepared to introduce yourself and identify the family member with whom you work.
2. Share memories with family members
Obviously, this is only appropriate if you knew the deceased and have a fond memory of him/her to share. A loved one’s death is a time when family and friends need to hear stories about the person they’ve just lost. Laughter and happy memories are “the best medicine” in times of grief.
3. Be prepared to listen
A bereaved family member may want to share their feelings. There is no need for you to offer a lengthy verbal response. Instead, what they need from you is supportive listening. All you need is an available ear and a sympathetic heart.
4. Offer support
It’s appropriate to offer assistance in whatever way you can to give the family more time to grieve. Even a simple act of kindness can be a significant help in times like these.
5. Attend the funeral service
I realize this is a controversial point to many, but it’s a matter I don’t want to ignore. I feel there are at least two primary considerations favorable to an employer attending the funeral.
The size of your organization. If your organization is small enough that all of your employees work together every day, I feel it’s appropriate for the employer to attend the funeral.
Your relationship with the employee. If you’ve known the employee for a long time or are acquainted with the family and the deceased, you need to attend if possible.
6. A handwritten note of condolence
If you have time, and when possible, write a note of sympathy to your employee. Surprisingly, people will keep those written expressions of sympathy and treasure them for many years.
7. Reach out after the funeral
After the funeral is over, continue to stay in touch over the days and weeks ahead. Don’t worry about what people say about a typical “year of grief.” Grief often lingers long after the funeral is over. Mark the date of the loved one’s death on your calendar. Then, you can reach out with a word of encouragement on the anniversary of the loved one’s death.
You’ll never regret extending sympathy in times of loss
Part of building a healthy employer-employee relationship is sharing the most difficult of times. If you can extend sympathy to your employees during times of grief and loss, you will have a positive influence on their life and your own life as well.