Why HR teams are not equipped to deal with bereaved employees’ needs

4 min read

After the passing of a person they loved deeply, an employee goes through many things. In a number of ways, they feel like a different person in terms of their emotions, their cognitive abilities, and even their physical health.

Crucially, they are also thrust into a new world as they assume responsibility for their loved one’s estate and must learn how to navigate financial and legal tasks that are unfamiliar, complex, and time-consuming.

As a result, many employees struggle with productivity and focus at work, and may turn to their HR team for support.

Unfortunately, most HR teams—no matter how dedicated they are to employees’ well-being—are not equipped to provide what employees need in the days, weeks, and months after a loved one has died.

Guiding an employee through the aftermath of loss requires an incredibly broad range of experience: everything from offering emotional support to providing financial and legal advice, and helping with bureaucratic red tape.

Since HR teams are already focused on a wide variety of employee priorities, expecting them to be able to dive deep into the experience of loss is simply not realistic. Attempts to do so will only overwhelm the team and, unfortunately, leave bereaved employees where they started: alone with the profound, painful challenges that come when the person they love leaves this world.

What employees face when dealing with loss

These profound, painful challenges are also incredibly time-consuming.

Bereaved employees face a wide variety of responsibilities: everything from settling debts and paying taxes to resolving inheritance issues.

Probate, the court-supervised process of appraising the estate’s assets and resolving its debts before the estate is transferred to the people who are inheriting it, often takes months, even years, to complete.

And even straightforward tasks like dealing with a loved one’s personal belongings, clearing out the contents of their home, and shutting down their accounts can be time-consuming.

In terms of the time commitment, it is like a second job. In terms of money, families often face a cash crunch that can last months or, in rare cases, years.

On average, settling a loved one’s affairs took 13 months, and cost more than $12,000, Empathy’s Cost of Dying Report revealed.

Understandably, bereaved employees are under intense strain during this period. In fact, the Cost of Dying Report showed that 76% said their performance or status at work was harmed after loss. And top performers often struggle the most, since they are not used to falling behind at work—and the harder they try to keep up, the more they risk burnout.

The case for getting external bereavement support

Bereaved employees are struggling, and so are their employers. Grief-related losses in productivity cost an estimated $100 billion each year in the U.S.

The Cost of Dying Report showed that 30% of bereaved employees said they were significantly less productive at work. This affects their coworkers, too: when an employee is struggling with loss, their team is, too.

Combating this issue in a meaningful way requires a team with deep knowledge on a broad range of issues related to loss. In the past, because the challenges of loss have been too much for HR teams to manage on their own, many companies have tried using their employee assistance program (EAP) as a solution. But EAPs are not sufficient for bereavement care.

EAPs cannot answer questions about probate. EAPs cannot help an employee cut through red tape to shut down household and financial accounts. And EAPs cannot resolve bureaucratic issues with benefits, life insurance, and loss of income.

With a focus exclusively on bereavement care, an external solution can provide a level of expertise that HR teams have neither the time nor the experience to reach.

Having a single place for employees to go— a dedicated resource for bereaved employees and their families—is the answer to easing stress on employees after loss.

With a focus exclusively on bereavement care, an external solution like Empathy can provide a level of expertise that HR teams have neither the time nor the experience to reach.

For employees who are grieving a loved one, in-depth personalized support and information through a service like Empathy’s is a powerful solution to the crisis of attention, time, and energy that typically follows loss today.

Today, many employees are effectively on their own in their darkest hours, stuck in crisis of attention, time, and energy. By standing with them in their most difficult days and providing dedicated bereavement care, HR teams can truly make a difference in employees’ well-being—and in the health of their company.