With help from industry experts, we look into how to lend support in helping care staff deal with grief.

Care workers play a vital role in supporting people from many walks of life, both emotionally and practically. They are incredibly skilful in helping friends and family navigate their new normal, from the need to adapt when a loved one moves into a care home to coping when they sadly pass away. However, things can look a little different when it is the care worker themselves that is grieving, so what can be done to support them?

Ana Ciobotaru, Home Manager at Austenwood Care Home, recognises how it’s important for care staff to take care of themselves as well as others, and believes you should try and encourage them to: “Acknowledge their own grief – give them time and space to process their emotions, talk to people they trust –  whether a friend, family member or therapist, talking about their feelings can help them to cope and take care of themselves physically and emotionally – eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep and exercising regularly as well as engaging in hobbies can help them feel like themselves again.”

Perhaps one of the worst parts about grieving after the passing of a resident as a caregiver, is the fact it can be a struggle to maintain a professional demeanour when dealing with grief.

Ana highlighted the importance of if you are feeling able to work, it’s important to: “Take some time for yourself, be mindful of your body language and tone of voice and avoid expressing your own personal opinions or beliefs about death and grief.”

There are some common signs and symptoms of grief that could indicate that someone might need support. If you notice someone withdrawing socially, having difficulty concentrating, or finding it difficult to complete tasks that they usually have no issue finishing, this could be a sign of them struggling with their grief. There may also be physical signs, such as feeling fatigued, stomach aches or headaches, or illness from a weakened immune system.

Ana commented: “It’s important to note that these signs and symptoms are not a ‘one size fits all’, the severity of the symptoms may change from person to person, and other symptoms may be present instead. If you notice that someone is not themselves, it may be worth checking in on them and seeing if they need some extra support.”

Grief is not linear, but creating a culture of openness and support, free from judgement, can give staff members the space to process how they feel and deal with it in their own way.

Hannah Karim, Senior Care Expert Manager at Lottie sees that as a manager, co-worker or team leader, in order to effectively support individuals who are grieving, it’s important to create a safe space to enable them to share their feelings.

“They can offer emotional support by allowing those grieving to share memories and feelings about the person or resident who’s passed, as well as signposting them to resources for grief counselling or support groups that can be helpful in providing practical support for anyone grieving.

“Grief affects everyone differently, so it is important to educate care staff on grief and how they can support anyone grieving.”

What are some common signs that a staff member is experiencing grief?

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Mood swings
  • Changes in work performance – you may find they are less motivated in their role
  • Physical symptoms such as fatigue and exhaustion
  • Personality changes – for example, if a staff member is usually very chatty, you may find they have become quieter and more introverted

Coping with grief while providing care requires a proactive approach. It’s important to acknowledge and express your and your team’s feelings and take the time needed away from the usual daily routine to take care of yourself.

Anyone grieving can benefit from seeking support through peer counselling, supervision, or external resources like grief support groups.

Hannah spoke about the importance of establishing healthy boundaries and said: “This is essential to prevent emotional burnout, ensuring you adopt self-care practices such as regular breaks and time off.

“Employers can support anyone experiencing grief through ongoing education about grief and bereavement, which can empower care staff to manage their emotions while providing compassionate care to others effectively.”

Unfortunately, due to the nature of the job, care staff are subject to facing grief more frequently than the average individual. Strategies for maintaining a professional demeanour whilst facing loss and grief at work are important to be introduced and Hannah suggests the following:

“While empathy is important, it’s crucial to establish emotional boundaries. Create a balance between connecting with others’ emotions and maintaining a level of professionalism to fulfil your job responsibilities.

“Encourage your staff to schedule regular catch-ups with you as a manager; this can offer a safe space to share any challenges you’re facing and help them to offer the best support tools to help you through a difficult time.”

So, how can care facilities promote a supportive environment for both staff and residents dealing with grief and loss?

Hannah sees that the focus for care providers is to offer a high level of compassionate care, including care and support for families who may have lost a loved one, as well as for any staff members experiencing grief or loss.

“The key to creating a supportive environment for anyone experiencing loss is to offer a listening ear and space to share how they’re feeling, reminisce on fond memories of the person they have lost, and offer emotional and practical support.

“Through grief and bereavement training, care facilities can educate their staff on how to support anyone experiencing the loss of a loved one. Care workers will be well equipped with support tools to create a supportive environment, offer a listening ear, and signpost useful support services and resources for anyone who may be struggling,” Hannah finished.

Supporting care staff through the grief of losing a resident is crucial as they often form strong connections with those they care for. Remember, grief is a personal experience, and different individuals may cope in various ways. Providing a range of supportive measures ensures that staff can choose what works best for them during this difficult time.