This June marks Sands awareness month and this year the focus is on #FindingtheWords to break the silence around stillbirth and neonatal death by encouraging everyone to sensitively start a conversation with someone whose baby has died, however long ago.
This campaign is driven by recent survey findings around support for the bereaved in the workplace. Many of the findings make for grim reading.
Support after their baby died
- After the death of their baby, most people sought support from family (81%), friends (62%) and employers (13%), but 12% did not seek support from anyone.
- People also mentioned Sands and other charities, the internet, counsellors and other health professionals, and religious organisations.
- People felt most supported by family (rated 7/10) and friends (6/10), and least by employers (5/10) and the wider community (3/10).
Awareness of employment policies
- Only one in five of people were aware of their employer’s policies for supporting staff if their baby died.
- Almost half (49%) of employers did not discuss entitlements to pay and leave with people following the death of their baby.
- Four in ten people were not offered any additional time away from work. Others took compassionate leave (26%), sick leave (23%), annual leave (3%) and unpaid leave (6%)
- For those who were self-employed, over two thirds (69%) were not able to access information on benefits or financial support.
Returning to work
- Almost a third (27%) of people were not contacted by their employer after their baby died. However, most of those who were contacted (62%) felt that their employer’s communication was sensitive and appropriate.
- Almost everyone (95%) had previously shared news of their pregnancy with all colleagues.
- However, only 46% of people were involved in deciding how or whether colleagues would be told that their baby had died and, after returning to work, 43% of people said no one talked to them about the death of their baby.
Support at work
- Only one in five people said their employer offered or provided internal or external bereavement support.
- People felt that a wide range of support would have been helpful, in particular extra support on anniversaries or other difficult dates (62%), counselling (55%) and information for colleagues (47%)
- Only 39% were able to display photos of their baby in their work space if they wanted to.
Employers were ranked at the bottom in terms of support along with the wider community. The issues we have around grief go deep and run throughout our lives so the idea that the workplace is out of bounds for these conversations is nonsense. At a time where we will spend more time with our colleagues at work than our friends and family having support at work is crucial.
It can make the difference between a colleague returning to work in the team or at all. The survey showed that while over half of people did feel supported to return to their previous role 26% returned to work despite not feeling supported to and 5% did not return at all because they did not feel supported to.
That’s why Sands’ Finding The Words campaign is so important. Feeling supported and listened to can make a huge difference with simple words. Finding The Words isn’t about grand speeches or deep and meaningful attempts to console or fix anything. It’s creating space where parents can have the opportunity to talk about their babies, say their names and share that memory with others.
It seems counter intuitive and sometimes silence isn’t meant to be hurtful. There may be a genuine belief that by not talking about it we are protecting someone from pain. This may be the case but starting the conversation can let someone who isn’t ready to speak know that when they are ready there will be someone will listen to them. If they are ready then they will appreciate the chance to share their stories and talk of their babies.
It’s difficult to know what to say and #FindingtheWords is about helping people do exactly that.