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How to manage grief in the workplace

Bereavement is one of the most devastating things any of us will ever go through. The majority of workers will experience the death of a person close to them during their working lives. The impact of COVID-19 has created specific challenges and implications and has highlighted the urgent need for employers to provide a compassionate approach to support. 

For many employers, it can be difficult to know how to respond when an employee is bereaved, and how to ensure that the impact on both the individual and the organisation is minimised. It’s important for employers to be sensitive during this time and to come to an understanding to what each individual might need at the time and be sure to consider the person’s physical and emotional wellbeing, including once they’ve returned to work. 

It is estimated that for every death, nine people are affected by bereavement, so employers can benefit from planning ahead. While many bereaved employees cope reasonably well at work, others struggle to manage their loss, and this can impact on their work and their relationships with managers and their colleagues. A well planned and managed approach to bereavement at work not only helps bereaved employees to cope better with their loss but also:- 

  • Supports their return to productivity 
  • Can help reduce absenteeism and sick leave 
  • Helps avoid unnecessary staff turnover 
  • Addresses the impact on colleagues and co-workers 
  • Strengthens corporate culture and team morale 

Research from the CIPD* found that just over half (54%) of employees said that they were aware of their employer having a policy or support in place for employees experiencing bereavement while many were not. The key recommendations from CIPD include: 

  • Bereavement policies and support should be holistic, long term and take into account individual circumstances. 
  • Employers should work to be knowledgeable about the law and bereavement, including parental bereavement leave and pay and emergency time off for family and dependants. 
  • Employers should address health and safety obligations in relation to bereavement and avoid discrimination and address the risk of bullying. 
  • An open culture of support helps people feel more comfortable raising any issues and asking for support. Communicate your approach and embed this culture of support. 
  • Develop a bereavement policy, covering aspects like reporting a bereavement, any leave and pay and returning to work. 
  • Educate and support people managers to show empathy and compassion. Download the line manager’s guide below. 
  • Provide training and support so they understand the organisation’s bereavement policy and support structure. 
  • Flexibility is key: build flexible responses and be open to ongoing flexible working provisions. 
  • Provide information on workplace support and signpost employees to external sources of information and support. 

Download the CIPD Guide to Compassionate Bereavement Support here:  

Employers need to be aware that anyone classed as an employee has the right to time off if: 

  • a ‘dependant’ dies, for example their partner, parent, child, or someone else who relied on them 
  • their child is stillborn or dies under the age of 18 – read more about the right to parental bereavement leave 

The law does not say how much time can be taken off if a dependant dies. It simply says the amount should be ‘reasonable’. There is no legal right to paid time off for bereavement, unless someone is eligible for parental bereavement pay when a child dies. Read ACAS full guidance here:  

It’s a good idea for your workplace to have a bereavement policy that covers time off and pay for bereavement so everyone is clear on how much time off and pay staff are entitled to and the support available to staff following a death. 

Employers and managers can support grieving employees by providing compassionate and flexible responses in the immediate aftermath of bereavement and in the longer term. If you would like support in this matter, then please contact a member of the ViewHR team today: or call 01425 205390. 

*Data was collected as part of the CIPD’s Employee Outlook survey and is based on responses from 1080 working adults. The survey was conducted online by YouGov in June 2020. Figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK working adults (aged 18+).