The death of a loved one affects every part of a person’s life.
Not only is there grief and intense emotions, but it has impact on their finances, their health and their relationships.
A recent US report by bereavement tech company Empathy found that individuals spent an average of $12,000 on expenses after their loss.
Plus, of the 2,000 people surveyed, 94.5% said they had experienced mental and physical health impacts following a bereavement.
As a result of the loss, they had less interest in everyday activity (48%), withdrew from social circles (35%) and became estranged family members (21%).
It is no surprise that all of these challenges that come from grief leach beyond people’s personal lives, and into their working lives.
They are, unsurprisingly, distracted at work, and this not only impacted their productivity, but also their career progression – 5% missed out on a raise or promotion, 4% had their salary reduced and 7% actually considered quitting as a result of the bereavement.
And this has a huge business impact – data from The Grief Recovery Institute shows that businesses in the US lost $100 billion a year to grief-related absenteeism, reduced productivity, and turnover.
The good news is that employers are aware of the problem – this is why 62% of organizations surveyed have a policy that directly addresses bereavement.
However, the majority of these policies are simply bereavement leave – and the average number of days employees took off was 5.6 days, when grief experts recommend individuals take 20 days off after the death of a close family member.
There is a need for companies to go further in supporting their employees after a loss – not just because it is the right thing to do, but the financially prudent thing to do.
One employer that is really going above and beyond is Fortune 100 telecoms giant AT&T.
UNLEASH sat down with associate vice-president of benefits at AT&T, Matthew Phillips, to get the exclusive inside track.
AT&T upgrades its bereavement benefits
“Our employees’ wellbeing is a huge passion of ours,” notes Phillips.
And leadership at the $120.7 billion-revenue telecoms company is committed to not resting on its laurels, and moving the needle on wellbeing for its 160,000 employees worldwide.
The employers’ wellbeing benefits span the “full spectrum” – they focus on physical, emotional, financial and social wellbeing.
To support AT&T on this vast range of offerings, it works with a couple of strategic partners, notable examples include Maven, Lyra, Included Health and Fortune 100 insurance giant MetLife.
Phillips and the benefits team at AT&T went to MetLife and said, “we want to do more in the wellbeing space”, particularly to ease the administrative burden of benefits, a huge pain point employees were facing.
And MetLife shared a new collaboration with bereavement platform Empathy, which might be able to fill some of AT&T’s gaps around loss.
Phillips shares that AT&T jumped at the opportunity – and actually became the first MetLife customer to use Empathy to provide additional bereavement support to employees, and their families.
Other employers leveraging Empathy include Fiverr, New York Life and MetLife itself.
Empathy acts as a free extension of the life insurance policy that AT&T offers its employees, and their dependents, through MetLife – this means Empathy’s platform is accessible to employees and dependents who are grieving a loss.
It is also available to retirees – “AT&T is one of the few companies who still offers subsidized retiree benefits, whether it be healthcare or life insurance”, explains Phillips.
The needs of retirees were top of mind for the benefits team when thinking about bereavement – “with their partner passing, they don’t have anyone else. There’s a lot of loss and loneliness”, but by providing Empathy, these groups have “this avenue… to speak to someone and begin to process that grief”.
Empathy’s tool provides holistic bereavement help to grieving employees.
It assists them with probate, funeral planning, property clearance, deactivating accounts and subscriptions, as well as provides emotional support through grief sessions, self-care tools and linking individuals up with local grief support groups.
Providing HR support in the moments that matter
Empathy was introduced to AT&T employees in 2022 – more than a year on, UNLEASH was keen to find out what impact the tool has had on the telecoms giant’s workers.
Phillips shares that the program has the highest net promoter score (NPS) of any wellbeing program – he describes that 86 NPS as “phenomenal”. This data was collected by surveying users.
“We heard from a lot of people that they were blown away, many people said they wouldn’t have known there to start” with some of the burdensome admin associated with bereavement.
But “the great thing about Empathy [is] you can choose what you want” – the technology enables users to completely customize Empathy to suit their needs.
But we don’t have to take Phillips’ word for it.
Also involved the UNLEASH interview was Eva-Maria Ponder, a member of the benefits team at AT&T who has personal experience of using Empathy following the death of her husband.
Ponder tells UNLEASH: “The most important thing that Empathy offered was that they could meet you where you are at, depending on where you are in the process of losing a loved one.”
She notes that support with the probate process was particularly useful for her – “what Empathy provided for me was a plan, a plan based on what my needs were specifically, it helped me to focus” on what needed to be done, and when.
Addressing other employers who might be considering upgrading their bereavement support – maybe with the help of a tool like Empathy – Ponder applauds AT&T of being forward thinking, caring, and having the support already in place in advance.
“We don’t always think about the things we may need in the moment” when a bereavement happens – but it “says a lot” when employers do step up and provide that human touch.
For Phillips and AT&T’s HR team, it makes sense to look after their people – “people are our greatest asset”.
We do look at the return in value of our investment, and we’ve seen time and time again that investing in your employees’ wellbeing is going to pay dividends”, for both the company and the workers themselves.
The future of wellbeing at AT&T
Of course, HR’s work is never done – employers need to keep innovating the support they offer to their people as new challenges crop up.
At AT&T, Phillips shares, “we are constantly looking at what the data says” about the needs and desires of employees around benefits.
Financial wellbeing is one element that AT&T is looking at – “do our employees have that cushion to survive those unforeseen financial burdens?”.
Emotional wellbeing is also top of mind, and AT&T is leaning into technology and embracing virtual care.
Phillips shares: “One silver lining of the pandemic [is that] everyone’s a lot more comfortable with virtual care now than they were before – we’re investing in that as well.”
While technology plays a huge role in AT&T’s approach to health and employees, Phillips shares “we still need to meet employees where they are” and work to provide localized support in their neighborhoods and communities.
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