For many people across the country, the additional Bank Holiday to mark the Queen’s funeral provided an important opportunity to mourn the loss of Britain’s longest reigning monarch.
For some employers, however, it presented an unprecedented and delicate situation. Particularly in sectors such as hospitality, the demands on the business were potentially at odds with the ambition to provide time off for staff – and evidence of the difficulty in striking that balance to the satisfaction of all parties could be seen in the high-profile U-turn conducted by Center Parcs.
Whatever your view, the company’s initial action appears rooted in an appreciation for the feelings of its workforce. Funerals are, after all, an important pillar in the collective grieving process that much of the population has experienced in recent weeks. For the millions able to watch, it will have provided space and time for them to pay their last respects.
The personal impact of loss
Reactions to the Queen’s death highlight how grief affects different people in different ways. For some, it was a general underlying sense of unhappiness. For others, there was an unsettling and sudden sense of absence, along with feelings of anxiety about what the future holds. For others still, the feelings will have been similar to the loss felt when a member of their own family dies. Indeed, the death of public figures can be triggering, dredging up uncomfortable and upsetting personal associations with grief.
And when employees do have to deal with the death of someone close to them, such feelings are, of course, amplified, and this can have significant implications on personal wellbeing. Emotionally speaking, the strain of grief can result in feelings of shock, anger, panic and depression – and sometimes a combination of all those things. In circumstances where these feelings do not resolve themselves over time and instead, they persist or even intensify, this is known as complicated or prolonged grief disorder.
From a physical perspective, grief can lead to problems with sleep and energy levels, which can in turn exacerbate emotional and mental problems. It has even been linked with pain, digestive problems, immune system dysfunction and cardiovascular issues.
Space and time to heal
Providing time and space for grief-affected staff is, therefore, important to help them heal their bodies and minds. There is no one-size-fits-all answer as to how much should apply, however. The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) advises that the availability of bereavement leave or pay will be detailed either within an individual’s employment contract or within relevant company policy. In either case, this will provide official guidance on the employee’s entitlement based on factors such as their relationship to the person who died. Time off might be available by law in certain circumstances and where employees are officially deemed to be not well enough to work, they could be entitled to sick leave and sick pay.
In some cases, private medical insurance policies will extend to the provision of grief counselling, giving employees access to valuable professional support in the aftermath of a bereavement, with sessions conducted either face-to-face or remotely with trained professionals. Other policies offer access to more general phone-based advisory services that are staffed by healthcare workers or volunteers, and give support and comfort to those experiencing the strain of grief.
The value of support
Such services underline how, for someone grieving, being able to talk – or simply to know that you are being heard – can be very valuable. In this vein, it is important that there is healthy, open communication between employers and grief-affected employees. Workers should feel confident and reassured, knowing that any questions, areas of uncertainty or gaps in knowledge can be filled with clear information, whether that’s related to time off or the time to return to work.
Every one of us will experience grief at some point in our lives, and how we deal with that situation will be intensely personal. In these difficult times, the support mechanisms offered by our employer – through company policies and healthcare benefits provision – can be highly valuable, but when they are delivered through a prism of empathy and understanding they can be truly priceless.
The information contained within this communication does not constitute financial advice and is provided for general information purposes only. No warranty, whether express or implied is given in relation to such information. Vintage Health or any of its associated representatives shall not be liable for any technical, editorial, typographical or other errors or omissions within the content of this communication.