Guest blog from HR Consultant, Saffron Gallacher
Losing a baby during pregnancy or after birth is one of the most heartbreaking events that a parent will ever have to face and can impact every area of their life. It can feel lonely, devastating, unbearable.
The role that the workplace plays in this process can be crucial. Providing an environment that is supportive, understanding and empathetic for a colleague that has suffered recent loss is an imperative, but it can be a sensitive road to navigate.
Knowing what to say is hard, but not saying anything is worse. There is no silver bullet, we are all different. We feel in different ways, we grieve in different ways. Keep what you say short and simple: “I am sorry for your loss” and then be there for your colleague, to listen. They need to feel heard, for their loss and pain to be acknowledged.
As employers and as colleagues, it is important that we do all we can not to add to the stress and anxiety that will be experienced during this time. Knowing how we can support and what our obligations are is the first step.
Below are some ways you can offer support:
Make things human
The last thing your colleague needs now is uncertainty about their position or having to read through policies themselves to understand their entitlements. Be proactive about letting them know how the company is going to support them and present the information in a human way rather than 'policy speak'. If you’re unsure about how to do this, you can always speak to your HR department.
Know your policies
Refresh yourself on your employment polices around maternity, paternity, bereavement and compassionate leave so that you are well equipped to advise and support in any way you can. A legally classed employee is entitled to maternity leave in the event of a stillbirth after the end of the 24th week of pregnancy and any maternity pay that they qualify for. This is also the case in the event of a neonatal death at any stage of pregnancy. Further details can be found by visiting www.acas.org.uk. Some organisations will also have their own separate, additional policies relating to miscarriage or other pregnancy loss, like Termination for Medical Reasons (TFMR) or ectopic pregnancy.
Communicate, offer your sympathy and condolences. Let them know you are there and that you are thinking of them. Try to understand their support network and whether they have the option of taking up bereavement counselling at the right time. You might also have an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) which offers additional advice or access to mental health support, so investigate this and let them know about this so they can choose to access this if they wish.
Know their preferences
Ask them what information they wish for you to share with their co-workers, how they would like you to stay in touch with the workplace and offer reassurance of confidentiality. Let them set the pace.
Exercise flexibility around their return to work, be kind, listen, understand, empathise. Give them space and time to come to terms with their loss.
Remember and acknowledge the dates
Their journey of grief will not end when they return to work. There will naturally be dates and anniversaries that will be difficult for them. Give them space and time, be mindful and flexible of leave requests, be aware of what may trigger their grief.
More info: Pregnancy at Work, Further support pages