By Anne Nicoll
We all react differently when it comes to supporting someone who has experienced loss or serious illness. Some of us go into active duty—helping with chores, errands and child care. Some of us share our own experiences to offer comfort. While some of us try to give the person “space” and time on their own— assuming they’ll reach out if they need anything.
These diverse reactions are also true on a professional front when it comes to how a workplace supports an absent colleague. But what is the right approach employers should take?
No simple answer on how to help a colleague facing grief or illness
There’s no simple answer on how employers can best support colleagues facing a loss or serious illness. Grief and illness recovery is a very personal process – what may work for one person may not work for another.
But through our work with our own colleagues and clients we have noticed some common best practices.
Reaching out and staying connected
Statistics show colleagues are less likely to return to work the longer they are absent and disconnected from their workplace. Employers can guard against this by offering, as part of their benefits or wellness programs, support that works to maintain a relationship with the absent colleague while also looking after the colleague’s well-being.
Don’t know where to start? Your benefit provider can help
Many benefit providers offer programs and support to help maintain connection to a colleague in times of absence. These can include everything from disability case management, linking colleagues to community resources and developing a back-to-work plan that fits the needs of both the colleague and the employer. We’ve found a lot of positive outcomes when offering these types of supports to our own colleagues and clients.
Positive outcomes for the colleague, employer and organization
Connecting regularly with colleagues who are absent due to times of loss or illness can create valuable benefits across the board. The colleague is provided with additional support to help with recovery. The organization has a better chance of keeping a valuable worker. Reaching out early can also help reduce the length of absence or the need to move to short or long term disability and the potential the colleague may never return.
Employers can influence the road to recovery
Employers can be an influential support in the long and sometimes challenging journey for those experiencing an illness or loss. A journey that—with the right support and ongoing connection to the workplace—can include a healthy transition back to a meaningful and productive work life.
Anne Nicoll is the vice president of health and disability management at Medavie Blue Cross