Bereavement care is a powerful mental health tool in the workplace

4 min read

In any relationship, actions speak louder than words. It is one thing to say something is important, and quite another to devote time and energy to it.

So it is with employees and mental health—a much-talked-about topic in the pandemic and quarantine years.

According to the World Health Organization, the global prevalence of anxiety and depression jumped 25% in the first year of the pandemic. As employees dealt with head-spinning changes to daily life and long-term social isolation, they needed more support.

Faced with this, many employers did more than talk about mental wellness. They reevaluated their mental health policies and looked beyond employee assistance programs (EAPs) for ways to provide the care their employees needed.

Yet bereavement has been largely left out of this conversation, during a period in which more than 1 million Americans, and nearly 7 million people worldwide, have died.

Grief is not a mental illness, but rather a transformative experience emotionally, mentally, physically, and even financially. It is a major life event that almost everyone goes through at some point, and it is a common reason for employee well-being to suffer.

Providing robust bereavement care, however, is a powerful signal that employee well-being is a high priority.

By taking action to support bereaved employees, companies stand with them in their darkest hours—and create a more stable organization in the process.

Think beyond EAPs

The bereavement experience is about more than the world-shattering pain of a loved one’s death. After a typical bereavement leave of 1 to 5 days, during which most employees gather for a funeral or memorial service, there is a long road ahead.

In other words, loss is much more than an emergency, which is why EAPs are not sufficient for bereavement care.

To begin with, some of the biggest challenges bereaved employees face are legal, financial, and administrative issues, with which EAPs have little to no expertise.

Paying debts, closing household accounts, going through probate, and paying taxes are just a few of the things that must be completed—even in grief, and even with job responsibilities to meet. Settling their affairs is a huge task: 20 hours a week for more than a year, on average.

Since an EAP is designed to be a one-size-fits-all solution for multiple issues that can affect an employee, it is a poor fit for anyone dealing with the numerous challenges that come with loss. 

Providing robust bereavement care is a powerful signal that employee well-being is a high priority.

As a result, employees are expected to do it all on their own, in addition to their full-time job.

With comprehensive bereavement care, however, knowledgeable guides can help employees navigate loss—saving them time and money, and reducing their stress.

Bereavement as a stressor

How stressful is loss? By surveying 1,485 Americans who recently suffered a loss, Empathy’s Cost of Dying Report revealed the scope of mental and physical strain:

  • 93% of those surveyed suffered from at least one physical or mental symptom.

  • 76% suffered from a change in their sleep patterns.

  • 83% experienced anxiety.

  • 73% reported confusion.

  • And, perhaps most revealing: 76% of bereaved employees said their performance or status at work was harmed.

For these reasons, bereavement is a risk factor for burnout, and possibly for employees to leave their employer altogether. Crucially, this is common among top performers, who aren’t used to falling behind at work and are less likely to ask for help. Without support, they may experience a crisis of confidence and seek a fresh start elsewhere.

In addition, when coworkers see a respected employee, especially a leader, fall in this way, they get the message that when misfortune happens, they’ll be on their own.

However, with robust bereavement care that offers step-by-step support from the funeral to the final tasks of settling a loved one’s affairs, employees aren’t alone as they juggling the impossible demands of loss.

Instead, they have a personal companion through the entire bereavement period, whatever comes up. And every employee sees empathy in action.