Jan 25

Supporting grief in the workplace

Sadly, everyone is likely to go through bereavement and loss at some point in their lives.  Research shows that over the last five years, 57% of the population have suffered a bereavement.  Despite this figure, grief remains something of a taboo subject and one that is rarely discussed in the workplace.

If a member of your workforce has recently suffered the loss of a person close to them, it’s important to remember that everyone grieves differently.  There is no right or wrong way to grieve and it will affect people differently at different times.  As an employer its essential to show compassion and be sensitive to what the employee might need at this difficult time.  Consider the employees physical and emotional wellbeing, both in the short term and after they have returned to work.

Having a compassionate leave or bereavement policy in place is a good idea.  This will provide clarity on what the organisation is able to provide in terms of bereavement leave and pay and any other support available. 

Communication is key.  Talking about death and loss is a very confronting subject and many people shy away from addressing the subject for fear of saying the wrong thing.  However, its important to communicate with the bereaved employee.  Acknowledging their loss and offering your condolences can go a long way as can checking in with them during any time off to see how they are coping. 

Encourage the bereaved employee to take some time away from the workplace.  All employees have the right to reasonable time off if a ‘dependant’ dies.  A dependant covers immediate family members such as spouse/partner, parent, child or other person who lives in the household.  There is no legal requirement for time off to be paid but offering paid bereavement leave will go a long way towards helping the employee avoid additional financial worries at such a difficult time.   Avoid pressuring the employee to return to work before they are ready.

Signpost to support available.  This could be through external charities that offer bereavement support such as Cruse ( or in house options such as an Employee Assistance Programme, if the organisation has one, that can offer counselling and support as required.

Educate line managers on the impact of grief and how to deal with employees suffering a bereavement with empathy and compassion.  It’s essential that support provided exists in both the immediate and longer term.  Line managers will also need to establish how much the bereaved employee would like communicated to colleagues.  By law, employees have the right to keep their loss private and not have the news shared with colleagues.

When the employee returns to work, it’s important to remember that they will still be grieving, and their performance and concentration levels will undoubtedly be affected.  Showing empathy and ensuring the employee feels supported at this stage will go a long way towards aiding their recovery.  Exploring flexibility such as a phased return, flexible working arrangements or alternative duties in the short term maybe beneficial and will often result in greater levels of loyalty.

Bear in mind that failure to provide adequate support at such a difficult time in an employee’s life is likely to impact negatively on the employment relationship. Without support, the bereaved employee may feel anxious or reluctant to return to work, their mental health may decline which will result in longer recovery times and it could even cause them to consider leaving the business altogether.  Recent research conducted by Hospice UK, found that 56% of people would consider leaving their employment if their employer did not provide adequate bereavement support.

If your business needs help in this area, HR Overload can help you formulate an effective compassionate leave or bereavement policy and framework for your business.  Please get in touch to see how we can help.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *