Written by Laura Todd, Head of Legal at Warehouse Utility
On my first afternoon as a litigation trainee, I breezed into the department fresh from a morning of training – only to be greeted by a panicked junior who thrust a pack of papers into my hands and told me they had to be filed at court within the next 45 mins. After a heart-stopping moment when I thought I might be lost forever within the warren that is the RCJ, with papers and cheque safely deposited I set off walking back to the office along Fleet Street to calm my shattered nerves. Glancing in a gift shop window, I saw a display that stopped me in my tracks – an entire window dedicated to the phrase “Keep Calm And Carry On”. Figuring this must be a sign from the universe, I ran in, bought a mug and swiftly adopted that phrase as the mantra for my legal career.
Answer to a question about a piece of law I’ve never heard of within the next hour? Sure… (keep calm and carry on).
Business receives a claim on Xmas Eve when you’re the only one in the office? No worries…(keep calm and carry on).
However, while it may be an appropriate response to an urgent request for advice on an obscure piece of law, is this not an impossibly high standard to hold ourselves to, not only as lawyers but as human beings?
This was something I found myself having to confront recently. I joined Utility Warehouse in September 2021, in fact it was the very week that the UK energy crisis started to make headline news – a baptism of fire indeed. Just a few weeks in and still very much finding my feet, I was blindsided by the news that my father had taken ill and was in hospital back home in the Midlands – and sadly only a few weeks later, he passed away – my witty, gregarious and all-round brilliant father was gone, leaving those of us left behind heartbroken.
Amidst the devastation and shock of those immediate days after, the “keep calm and carry on” mindset started to cause trouble, as I started to worry about the amount of time I should take off and how any extended absence would be perceived by colleagues and stakeholders, particularly when I was still so new to the role.
Thankfully, I had a supportive team around me, who attempted to soothe my worries and encouraged me to take as long as I needed. Nevertheless, I soon returned – a well-timed transaction providing a helpful distraction from my grief.
Ostensibly, yes I was “carrying on”, but it wasn’t that simple. Grief affects people both mentally and physically. Difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, loss of ability to concentrate, anxiety – there’s no way to avoid it affecting you at work – and so, with the encouragement of my team, I didn’t. As others in the team opened up and shared their stories with me, I in turn learnt that it is ok to be honest and vulnerable with my team, to acknowledge that my grief is real and not something to be stored away until I shut my laptop off at the end of the day.
Over the last year, as a team we have kept the conversation going – and have continued to cultivate an open and supportive working environment. We encourage everyone to bring their whole self to work, and while adopting a flexible working environment means we spend most of our time working remotely – we take care to check-in with each other daily. Someone recently described our team to me as having a “family feel” – something I am immensely proud of.
Bereavement, illness, parenthood, break-down of relationships – all of us will most likely go through a challenging life event at one stage or another during our careers and I’ve learnt first-hand how much of a difference it makes to have your “work family” behind you – checking-in and offering help and support.
So how can you support your colleagues through bereavement?
- DO acknowledge their loss – it’s natural to feel uncomfortable talking about death but staying silent or avoiding someone after bereavement can make them feel worse.
- DO ask how they are feeling and how you can help.
- DO continue to check-in regularly. There is no timeline for feeling better – sometimes people don’t begin to grieve until months or even years later. Encouraging they are kind to themselves by taking one day at a time and prioritising their self-care is essential.
- DO prepare yourself in advance. Familiarise yourself with the wellbeing and mental health support offering in your work place and your company’s bereavement policy, learn about what additional support your company offers and read guidance on workplace bereavement (available on websites such as cruse.org.uk and acas.org.uk)
For more guidance and information on bereavement please visit: