Workplace Support for Families of Deceased Armed Forces Veterans
As we step closer to Armistice Day, we are encouraged to reflect on the sacrifices that others have made for us.
We remember the brave, selfless and heroic actions of those who have given their lives in order that we have a safer, brighter future.
As the decades move on and we remember those that we lost in the earlier wars, we now also see a younger cohort of families mourning the loss of loved ones who have died in more recent times.
We hear about members of our armed forces who have lost their lives whilst on active duty, we hear about those who have lost their lives because of the significant injuries sustained previously and we also hear of those who have been unable to cope with the emotional impact of war and have lost their lives through suicide.
Whilst it is so very important that we remember each and every one of these incredibly brave men and women, very little focus is given to their bereaved families.
With many family members being of working age and with the impact of the financial loss that the death will have caused, balancing work and family commitments alongside dealing with their bereavement will cause significant levels of stress.
It is usual practice for many organisations to offer a standard 2 week bereavement period of leave on the death of an immediate relative but what does this really cover?
It will cover the numbness of what was happened, it will cover the initial influx of contact and support from wider family and friends and it will cover required processes that need completing when someone dies.
As the adjustment to the loss starts to become a reality, a new life starts to emerge but, it is one that the individual never wanted to be a part of, a life that they hadn't hoped for or expected. As well as the physical and emotional loss of the person they love, there is the loss of the life that had been hoped for, the family events that wont be same without their loved one present, and for some, the raising of children that will miss out on that key figure being a part of their lives.
Some people will have to increase their hours or look for a higher paid role to manage financially with the change in circumstance so yet another change will be required and for those living in military accommodation, there will be an expectation that they will eventually move from the property and relocate. The impact that moving away from this supportive and close community should not be underestimated. Military life and community is as much a way of life for the family unit as it is the serving armed forces personnel.
And then comes the return to work …….
There will be a mix of response from colleagues - some being very supportive and some not knowing how to acknowledge the death which in itself can cause anxiety.
We know that bereaved people often report a change in relationships with some more distant relationships becoming closer and some pre existing close relationships breaking down.
Support for bereaved people in the workplace is widely documented as requiring more attention.
Studies indicate that staff feel unsupported and that line managers do not show empathy or understanding when it comes to bereavement support. Whilst there is a demonstrated increase in the amount organisations are investing in staff wellbeing, there remains an unmet training need around providing emotional support that should be a core requirement of all line managers.
When supporting staff in your workforce that have experienced a military bereavement, perhaps consider the following actions:
* Ensure that the bereavement experience follows a personalisation plan rather than a structured two week leave period.
*Ensure that HR and line managers know where to signpost to for additional support.
*Ensure that Armistice Day is recognised in the workplace with line managers approaching their bereaved workforce members to ensure that the observing the silence is something they feel able to deal with and if not, make arrangements for that individual to be supported.
*Invite those members of your workforce to become involved with plans to mark Armistice Day by perhaps making poppies available or inviting them to read a short piece that means something to them.
* Perhaps make a wall of remembrance for all staff to place photos and memories of those they have lost
*Provide training for HR teams and line managers on delivering emotional support and the resilience required to deliver strong emotional support.
*Remember to check on your workforce when news breaks of a military event resulting in death.
*Ask if you are providing the right level of support or if they think there is anything further you can do to help
Perhaps you already have standard practice to support bereaved members of your workforce - if so, why not share them?