Supporting Grieving Employees: How the LCBO is leading the way in Canada

When Lilian Riad-Allen’s mom died in 2021, she felt as though everything she knew about the world was completely upended. Feeling lost, she sought out grief support and came across a company called Help Texts, which provided ongoing, expert bereavement care via text message. Lilian signed up for support from Help Texts and found the messages really helpful, with powerful reminders and suggestions, personalized and tailored to the loss of her mom.

Help Texts gave me practical ways to ground back into myself and process my loss in a supportive and loving way." -- Lilian Riad-Allen

As the Senior Director for Workplace Health, Safety & Wellness at the LCBO, Lilian openly shared about her experience with grief, and before long, she found that others started sharing as well. It was at this point that she realized the vast number of people struggling to manage loss. From there, she started thinking about how many of their organization’s 8000+ employees might benefit from this support and began advocating for grief support for all LCBO employees, rooted in her hope that all bereaved people could receive the support they need when a loved one dies. Luckily, the LCBO was very supportive of this suggestion.

In 2022 Lilian, along with colleague Kayla Smith, met with the team at Help Texts to talk about a pilot to support grieving employees. Kayla also had experience with Help Texts, as she had been receiving texts with tips and suggestions for how to support a grieving friend.

It can be difficult knowing what the ‘right’ thing is to say or how to show up. To say that I learned a lot from Help Texts would be an understatement. I was given so many new tools and new language to help me be there for my friend." -- Kayla Smith

At the time of Lilian and Kayla’s meeting with Help Texts’ CEO, Emma Payne, the company had been delivering grief support in the US and UK for 4 years and was just weeks away - as it happened - from opening a Canadian subsidiary. Help Texts Canada, Inc. opened its doors on January 1, 2023, and LCBO was proud to become its first client.

LCBO now proudly offers a full year of personalized grief support to all of their 8000+ employees. Text support is available in English, French, and 22 other languages, and is tailored based on cause of death, relationship, age, and more. Current research suggests that over a third of North American employees are grieving a recent loss, so Lilian & Kayla knew that they probably had thousands of bereaved colleagues, many of whom probably weren’t receiving grief support, due to barriers such as cost, language, stigma and availability. They also knew that grieving employees are at increased risk for anxiety, depression, illness, substance use, workplace accidents, and lost work, and were excited to play a leading role in shifting the conversation about bereavement benefits in Canada while continuing to support our employee whole person well-being.

In the US, the UK, and many other countries around the world, leading employers such as Johnson & Johnson, Adobe, American Express, and JPMorgan Chase have been expanding bereavement benefits to include things like non-consecutive leave, recognizing that funerals and other arrangements can happen weeks or months after a death. Johnson & Johnson expanded bereavement leave from 5 to 30 days, setting an example for other employers who recognize that a thoughtful and flexible bereavement leave policy is a key part of building a caring workplace culture.

LCBO employees like Thomas Georgakopoulos, the organization’s Director of Retail Strategy and Analytics, is grateful for his employer’s leadership in Canada. LCBO offered him a full year of text support from Help Texts when his father died last year.

When my father passed unexpectedly it was the hardest experience I had ever encountered. I personally didn’t feel grief counseling or therapy was helpful to me, but when I was made aware of Help Texts I said yes to signing up and have been finding it very helpful. Twice a week I get messages that resonate with how I feel with losing someone so close to me and I look forward to each new message. Help Texts is a tool I highly recommend for anyone who has lost someone close to them." -- Thomas Georgakopoulos

As awareness increases about the high cost of bereavement in the workplace, it’s likely that Canadian employers will follow the example of thoughtful organizations around the world and expand bereavement care—so that people like Thomas and Lilian can get support when a loved one dies. Help Texts is one powerful way that employers can provide immediate support for employees, no matter where they work.

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