How to support employees through bereavement

Bereavement / HR

How to support employees through bereavement

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

A CIPD poll found that 75% of employers are in favour of allowing employees experiencing a bereavement of a close family member to take time off. Despite there being no legal obligation to do so, 80% of employers are already doing this.

It’s great that companies are broadly in agreement that employees should be given leave during difficult life challenges. But there is still a resistance to have an open conversation about grief and bereavement at work, along with a general lack of support for bereavement in the workplace. For example, 54% of employees are unaware of their employer having a policy or support available for those going through bereavement.

It would seem that companies are happy to provide support to bereaved employees, but are reluctant to create clear policies or processes for doing so. Managing instances of bereavement at work might seem easier to address on a case-by-case basis, but this may not always be helpful for the employee. When someone experiences a tragic life event, they need to be clear on where they stand and feel supported by their company, rather than left to ask questions and investigate.

So how can companies, HR teams and Managers provide better and more effective support to employees that have been bereaved

1. Introduce a bereavement policy

This shows employees that this is an important issue and provides clarity and consistency across the business, so everyone understands what they’re entitled to without needing to investigate or delay. The bereavement policy could be linked to a wider mental health or wellbeing policy in the company also. While grief is not a mental health condition, it can be the cause of stress, depression or anxiety, so make sure your support services are joined up and easily accessible.

2. Talk about bereavement and normalise the topic in the workplace

Bereavement is a part of life that all of us will experience at some point and avoiding discussion of the topic does not stop it occurring. It may seem insensitive to discuss bereavement at work, but being transparent with other employees about the circumstances of someone’s absence, if they’re happy for you to share them, will help colleagues to understand how they can also support the bereaved, without causing further upset, along with creating a plan for covering their work whilst they’re unavailable.

3. Build an employee wellbeing programme that incorporates bereavement support

Wellbeing programmes should generally support employees with all of life’s challenges and can be very effective if they incorporate support that’s specific for bereavement. This might include access to a counselling service, or perhaps information and guidance that signpost’s further support to the employee.

4. Incorporate flexibility into your approach

Grief can produce a vast array of emotions, from sadness and depression to anger and confusion. Everyone has a different experience and it’s vital that employers acknowledge this. Flexibility must be built into any process or policy for bereavement, so each employee is treated as an individual and they can get the help and support most appropriate to them.  

5. Train managers to support bereaved employees

Managers will feel more confident and comfortable to support their direct reports if they have been trained. This may include equipping them with the skills to communicate with those that have experienced loss, or training them on the internal process they should follow. They also need to be fully up-do-date on the external support available to those they manage, so they can pass this information on without delay.

Written by Karen Taylor, Founding Director at Wellness Cloud