Dealing with workplace bereavement Dealing with workplace bereavement

Dealing with workplace bereavement
04 Oct 2017

The death of someone close can have a devastating effect on individuals both in a practical and emotional sense, and it often has long-term repercussions. Moreover, the ripple effect of such bereavement can be very wide-ranging.

While the death of a parent may be anticipated and understood by colleagues, the birth of a stillborn baby, a suicide or murder can have an impact on everyone who knows the affected worker. Indeed, according to Cruse Bereavement Care, a UK charity that helps people deal with the issue, a huge 10% of people in the workplace are likely to be affected by bereavement at any one time.

Worryingly, statistics published by not-for-profit organisation Child Bereavement UK also suggest that 56% of people would consider leaving their job if their employer failed to provide adequate support when someone close to them died. A further 82% believed that providing employees with paid bereavement leave was likely to have a  beneficial effect for employers into the long-term.

With these considerations in mind, it seems clear that managers would be wise to acknowledge the impact of bereavement on their staff and provide them with appropriate support where necessary, not least because such loss can trigger or exacerbate long-term mental health issues. These include panic attacks, anger, suicidal feelings, anxiety, loneliness, sleep problems, depression and stress

But it is also important not to forget the potential impact this kind of situation can have on work colleagues too. If individuals are absent or there are changes to their working hours, it can have a knock-on effect on other members of the team in terms of increased workloads. They may also feel concern for the bereaved person and be unsure about how to engage with them. In particular, a death within a close-knit team can have significant repercussions on everyone.

Policies and training

While legally employers in most parts of the world are not obliged to offer staff any paid compassionate leave, research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development suggests that five days of paid leave is the average time off provided to deal with such emergencies in the UK at least - although this situation will obviously vary from country to country.

Whatever the situation, it goes without saying that employers should have a clear bereavement policy in place. This policy should set out bereavement leave and flexible working options, a point of contact for bereavement support, which is independent of an individual's line manager, and whatever other services are on offer.

Line managers and HR teams should likewise all be trained in how to hold compassionate and effective conversations with bereaved employees. But employers should be flexible and use discretion depending on each individual's circumstances.

For example someone who is grieving may have difficulty in concentrating, making decisions and maintaining performance. They may also need to take time off unexpectedly and be unable to carry out some roles. All of this should be born in mind when managing them at this difficult time.

It is also worth noting that everyone grieves differently - there is no right or wrong way to do it and, in some cases, loss can be life-changing. It is helpful if employers and colleagues are able to understand and respect this fact.

Suitable support

In practice, this means managers should have regular, informal reviews with affected workers to check how they are coping and if they require support. Doing so can make a11 employee feel valued, thereby increasing feelings of loyalty, reducing sickness absence and increasing retention rates. It is also worth bearing in mind how simply undertaking a few easy adjustments can make all the difference to the individual worker's wellbeing.

But many bereaved people find that receiving emotional support from a source that is independent of their employer is useful too. They will often be wary about sharing their emotions with a manager or colleague in case it is perceived as a sign of weakness. Bereaved individuals may also experience a loss of confidence and self-esteem.

An independent support service, on the other hand, can help them develop coping strategies that may enable them to return to work more quickly than they would otherwise - and cope better once they are there. Aside from long-term emotional support, a wide range of practical help can also be provided including childcare facilities and providing support for grieving children.


Charities and self-help groups can be very beneficial here, but support services are likewise frequently available via employee assistance programs, protection insurance benefits (income protection, critical illness, life assurance), private medical insurance and cash plans.

Employers need to be cautious; however, as just what such support services comprise can vary widely. Some may include little more than a light­ touch helpline, while others might provide long­ term aid from a dedicated nurse. Whatever the circumstances though, continuity of support will always be important due to the long-term and changing nature of grief.

Christine Husbands has been managing director of Red Arc Nurses, a service that provides personal nurse advisers for people experiencing illness, disability, trauma or bereavement, since 20 l 0. She spent the initial part of her career in financial roles and has held several board-level positions in financial services organizations.

The death of someone close can have a devastating effect on individuals both in a practical and emotional sense, and it often has long-term repercussions. Moreover, the ripple effect of such bereavement can be very wide-ranging.

While the death of a parent may be anticipated and understood by colleagues, the birth of a stillborn baby, a suicide or murder can have an impact on everyone who knows the affected worker. Indeed, according to Cruse Bereavement Care, a UK charity that helps people deal with the issue, a huge 10% of people in the workplace are likely to be affected by bereavement at any one time.

Worryingly, statistics published by not-for-profit organisation Child Bereavement UK also suggest that 56% of people would consider leaving their job if their employer failed to provide adequate support when someone close to them died. A further 82% believed that providing employees with paid bereavement leave was likely to have a  beneficial effect for employers into the long-term.

With these considerations in mind, it seems clear that managers would be wise to acknowledge the impact of bereavement on their staff and provide them with appropriate support where necessary, not least because such loss can trigger or exacerbate long-term mental health issues. These include panic attacks, anger, suicidal feelings, anxiety, loneliness, sleep problems, depression and stress

But it is also important not to forget the potential impact this kind of situation can have on work colleagues too. If individuals are absent or there are changes to their working hours, it can have a knock-on effect on other members of the team in terms of increased workloads. They may also feel concern for the bereaved person and be unsure about how to engage with them. In particular, a death within a close-knit team can have significant repercussions on everyone.

Policies and training

While legally employers in most parts of the world are not obliged to offer staff any paid compassionate leave, research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development suggests that five days of paid leave is the average time off provided to deal with such emergencies in the UK at least - although this situation will obviously vary from country to country.

Whatever the situation, it goes without saying that employers should have a clear bereavement policy in place. This policy should set out bereavement leave and flexible working options, a point of contact for bereavement support, which is independent of an individual's line manager, and whatever other services are on offer.

Line managers and HR teams should likewise all be trained in how to hold compassionate and effective conversations with bereaved employees. But employers should be flexible and use discretion depending on each individual's circumstances.

For example someone who is grieving may have difficulty in concentrating, making decisions and maintaining performance. They may also need to take time off unexpectedly and be unable to carry out some roles. All of this should be born in mind when managing them at this difficult time.

It is also worth noting that everyone grieves differently - there is no right or wrong way to do it and, in some cases, loss can be life-changing. It is helpful if employers and colleagues are able to understand and respect this fact.

Suitable support

In practice, this means managers should have regular, informal reviews with affected workers to check how they are coping and if they require support. Doing so can make a11 employee feel valued, thereby increasing feelings of loyalty, reducing sickness absence and increasing retention rates. It is also worth bearing in mind how simply undertaking a few easy adjustments can make all the difference to the individual worker's wellbeing.

But many bereaved people find that receiving emotional support from a source that is independent of their employer is useful too. They will often be wary about sharing their emotions with a manager or colleague in case it is perceived as a sign of weakness. Bereaved individuals may also experience a loss of confidence and self-esteem.

An independent support service, on the other hand, can help them develop coping strategies that may enable them to return to work more quickly than they would otherwise - and cope better once they are there. Aside from long-term emotional support, a wide range of practical help can also be provided including childcare facilities and providing support for grieving children.


Charities and self-help groups can be very beneficial here, but support services are likewise frequently available via employee assistance programs, protection insurance benefits (income protection, critical illness, life assurance), private medical insurance and cash plans.

Employers need to be cautious; however, as just what such support services comprise can vary widely. Some may include little more than a light­ touch helpline, while others might provide long­ term aid from a dedicated nurse. Whatever the circumstances though, continuity of support will always be important due to the long-term and changing nature of grief.

Christine Husbands has been managing director of Red Arc Nurses, a service that provides personal nurse advisers for people experiencing illness, disability, trauma or bereavement, since 20 l 0. She spent the initial part of her career in financial roles and has held several board-level positions in financial services organizations.