Wellbeing, Human Resources

How to deal with loss at work: the anniversary of lockdown

Lydia Watson

On the 23rd March 2020, a national lockdown was imposed. But that wasn’t the start of the pandemic. Just a day later, the death toll was 422. Many businesses had already closed, not knowing that it wouldn’t be until May that restrictions would ease. Life was unalterably changed.

One year on, and we’re reflecting on loss. The loss of loved ones, of livelihoods, of lifestyles. So how can you continue to support your people, through bereavement or other types of loss?

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Supporting employees through loss:

When they’ve lost a loved one

With over 140,000 Covid-19-related deaths in the UK, one or more of your people may have lost a friend or family member in the last year. Supporting grieving employees is difficult under normal circumstances, but in the wake of a pandemic they’ll need more care and empathy than before. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that Bupa saw a 40% increase in organisations asking for help in supporting their bereaved employees.

Leaders should be aware of the grieving process, provide resources like counselling, and continue to be flexible and compassionate as time goes on. But crucially, they should back all this with an awareness of how a Covid-19 loss is different – from missing out on a formal opportunity to mourn, to exacerbating anxieties about the situation itself.

When they’ve lost their career

The impact on jobs has been severe – and the worst may be yet to come. At the last measure of unemployment rate, it was 5.1% – the highest in five years. Were it not for the 11.2 million jobs furloughed, this number would be much higher. But the impact of furlough ending this year could be devastating, with more business closures and redundancies.

Whatever situation your business is in, it’s important to keep lines of communication open. If jobs are at risk, consider how you handle it with the people who leave and the ones who stay. Kindness won’t go unnoticed, even if the worse were to happen.

And if everything’s fine? Make that known. Reassure your anxious workforce that they’re secure – likelihood is, they’re seen a partner, family member, or friend hit by job insecurity.

When they’ve lost their freedom

For some of your employees, there may have been no respite to lockdown. For people shielding for health reasons, they may have faced a year in isolation – unable to even take a stroll to the local park, or fight it out for the last bag of flour in the supermarket. Worse yet, 45% have seen their health deteriorate due to not being able to access treatment. For some groups, there have been housing issues too – from young adults struggling in cramped flatshares, to LGBTQ+ people in unsafe domestic situations.

Employers need to consider the living situations, and health concerns, of different identities within their organisation. While isolated groups might welcome a camera-on, Zoom social culture, those in shared or hostile housing may not. Similarly, a return to the office is going to be a daunting task for them. The trick is a nuanced, flexible approach led by listening.

Be there for your people, with listening-led empathy

Hearing the phrase ‘unprecedented times’ over and over in the past 12 months may have numbed how strange these times really are. Knowing how to deal with this kind of loss – from the devastating loss of life, to the more intangible struggles – is a challenge for organisations.

But, as with anything, it starts with listening. The best thing people leaders can do is hear the voice of all their employees, understand what they’re saying, and use that to find real ways to help them get through it.

It’s time to start the conversation

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