• Michelle Smith

Supporting your workforce through Covid-19

Who could have predicted how different life would be - even 3 months ago? We are all having to learn a "new normal" and it is becoming so apparent that we are a long way (if ever) from returning to how things were before the pandemic hit.

So much positive work is going on to help people adjust to working from home, staying connected, supporting neighbours and others in our communities. You don't have to search for long to find support or useful hints and tips on managing lockdown.

What we aren't seeing so much of, is how organisations can support their workforce as they struggle with bereavement during this time.

In the UK, we are already just under short of 12,000 people dying of the virus in hospital settings. This figure is further increased by those who are dying of the virus in community settings. In addition to those dying of Coronavirus, we must remember people are still dying of other illnesses and for all of those deaths, no matter what the cause, the bereavement experience of anyone during these times is likely to be more complex because we are not able to follow our normal traditions and ceremonies to deliver the funerals we would have otherwise provided.

It is well documented that the process of the funeral offers us some closure and some acceptance as we start to work through our bereavement. We are hearing so often, stories of individuals who are unable to attend the funeral of a loved one, either because they have to go into isolation themselves or because there are low numbers of people permitted to attend the ceremony.

Indeed, we also know that one of the most important parts of a funeral ceremony, is the chance it offers us to support one another, offer a comforting hug, reach out a caring hand and exchange memories full of happier times and sharing love.

Whilst we all understand the need to observe and respect these rules, we have to consider the effects that this inability to say goodbye and that usual start to our bereavement process will have on our emotional wellbeing both now and in the longer term.

Providing emotional support is well documented as being an area that managers struggle with. For some, emotionally supporting a home based workforce via video or telephone will present further challenges.

Reading body language, noticing tone of voice with poor network connections, being comfortable with silence, finding the right moment to speak, respond, encourage exploration of thoughts and feelings all become so much more difficult when the face to face connection is removed.

When delivering emotional support to your bereaved workforce during this time, here are some useful tips to consider:

· Before the conversation starts, take time to get yourself in the right mindset.

· Start by recognising the uniqueness of the situation and offer your condolences.

· Work to a timeframe that suits your staff member.

- If it is a phone/video meeting, acknowledge the challenges this presents.

· Let them know they can pause, or indeed stop the conversation at any time if it becomes too difficult emotionally and that you will ensure a follow up is booked soon after.

· Allow the staff member to tell their story. Do not interrupt, do not relate to an experience you or someone you know has had/is having.

· Allow for emotion, allow for silence.

· Empathy, not sympathy.

· Ask what support your staff member thinks they might need in the coming days/weeks and agree a model of support moving forward.

· Consider as an employer how you adapt your bereavement leave policy during this time – staff will not be able to easily access GP’s for additional leave outside the policy. These are extraordinary times that call for extraordinary measures to be put in place – be supportive as an employer.

· Once the conversation has ended and next steps have been agreed, take time to gather your thoughts.

We have developed a factsheet to help guide managers through delivering emotional supportive conversations that relate to Covid-19. Contact us if you would like a copy.



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