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  • Michelle Smith

Managing loss in the workplace

This week marks the first ever UK Grief Awareness Week and this blog aims to reflect on support in the workplace when an employee experiences bereavement due to the death of a close relative.


Death of a loved one.


When we think of loss in the workplace, most commonly, people will think about the death of a close relative.


Here in the UK, there is no statutory bereavement leave entitlement and many organisations offer a standard 3-5 days period of paid bereavement leave.



When we look at that more closely and consider the reality of being expected to absorb the news of the death, make contact with other family members and friends, make the practical arrangements that are required and then be expected to be in the right headspace to return to work, it is no wonder that many individual's then have to turn to the support of their GP to be signed off for a longer period of time to start to manage their bereavement.


This is of course presuming the death does not require the intervention of the Coroner, for example when there is a sudden death, a murder, a suicide or death via an industrial disease such as Mesothelioma. In such circumstances, the list of procedures extends significantly.


Furthermore, the UK has evolved significantly in terms of the varied number of cultures that have established their homes and communities here and each of these cultures will have tradition and ceremony to follow. Again this early period of bereavement can be impacted by crematoriums not having availability for several weeks, Coroner involvement being required etc.


When a parent of a child dies, the surviving parent or carer for the child/children will also have the additional duties of informing the school or nursery and will very likely be absorbed in supporting the children through the death of their parent and so their own bereavement needs are put on hold until often, much further down the line.


Indeed, it is true that a large number or organisations acknowledge that there is very often a longer period of leave required when an employee experiences the death of a loved one and will be supportive of additional time off.


Support in the workplace.

There is still much evidence to support the position that line managers and HR teams find it difficult to know how to support their staff emotionally. They are worried about what to say, they worry about saying the wrong thing and often avoid more than dealing with the practical arrangements that have been made. Line managers openly acknowledge that they would like to be more confident in delivering emotional support to their staff.


We frequently meet with people who talk to us of their bereavement experience and we have been given permission to share some of those experiences:



"I had been my Mum's carer for over 10 years and work had always supported me. When she died, that changed, I had a new manager just before Mum died and they told me that I had always known this was going to happen so they would like me to think about getting back to work as soon as possible.

I had texts and calls like this until I went back to work 2 weeks after she died and then when I did go back, my colleagues were lovely and when I got upset, they would be supportive but my manager told me I should be focusing on work. 3 months after my Mum died, I felt I couldn't stay there any longer. I was with them for 26 years and although I am now settled here, I know my confidence was affected by that whole experience."


"We were all shocked when my wife died last year, she was only 32 and hadn't been unwell at all. She died in her sleep from an undetected heart issue and I was left with our 3 year old twin girls who had only started nursery the week before.

We met here and both worked here for a few years so we had lots of friends here. People don't always know what to say and there was a mix of some people avoiding me completely who I had always thought I had got on well with and there were others I hardly know who were coming forward to offer help with school runs, running the house and offering to take the girls for short periods of time so I could have some time for me.

The one person who got me through, and still does is my manager. He has been great. He was in contact from the moment he heard and we always caught up when the girls were elsewhere or in bed so that I didn't have to worry about balancing speaking about everything with the girls around. He organised for HR to come to my house with him so that I could get a longer period of leave negotiated and when I was ready, he worked with HR, who have also been a constant support to look at flexible working.

When she first died, my first thought was that I would have to give up work but here, they have made sure that I can balance bringing in a stable income and being the Dad that the girls need me to be.

I cant imagine working anywhere else."


Supporting staff after the death of a close relative

There are a number of things that organisations can do to better support their staff when they experience the death of a close relative. Some of the things you could consider are:

~ Send a condolence card to the staff member

~Ensure a key contact is established if the usual line manager is on leave/away from the workplace

~Agree with your staff member what will and wont be communicated to colleagues ensuring they know their privacy and wishes will be respected at all times

~Ensure line managers and HR teams have training on delivering emotional support

~Ensure line managers and HR teams have resilience training to enable them to sustain the delivery of emotional support

~Ensure frequency of communication with the bereaved individual is agreed with the employee and then maintained by the employer

~Do not compare to your own bereavements or losses, each one is individual and each experience is unique.


Find out more or Share your experience

If you would like to find out more about emotional support training, resilience training or how we support you to review your policies and wellbeing practice, visit our website for more details.


If you would like to share your experience of bereavement support in the workplace, it would be great to hear from you.





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