< Bereavement at work

Workplace bereavement strategy

A workplace bereavement strategy can help businesses support employees through a very difficult time and cope with the challenges they face.

Employees will need time to administer practical tasks; from arranging the funeral, to adapting routines or family life when someone dies. They will also need time to adjust to the emotional impact of their loss.

Creating awareness of a bereavement policy in the workplace is good business practice:

  • Promoting positive company values

  • Endorsing a healthy workplace culture

  • Staff loyalty

  • Flexible approach = greater productivity

  • Reducing unanticipated staff absence

Here are some tips that employers should consider, when mapping out a workplace bereavement strategy.

When an employee is bereaved

  • Express your condolences – and make it clear that they are not expected to work on the day that their loved one has died, nor feel pressured to check in
  • Consider how much time they may need to make arrangements or fulfill religious or cultural funeral rites
  • Identify the way they would prefer you to keep in touch
  • Keep dialogues open but unpressured
  • Do they wish you to inform colleagues of their circumstances?
  • Is there a back-to-work policy in place that would enable them to phase a return back to work?

Supporting employees coping with grief

The death of a loved one can impact on almost every aspect of someone’s life and well-being.

Some people may find the structure of a work routine is a support to them in grief. However you should be aware that grief can affect changes in someone’s behaviour or levels of concentration, involvement or focus.

Lack of sleep, loss of appetite, increased anxiety or depression may be among the grief symptoms that someone may be coping with. Be open to discussing strategies that may help them avoid additional workplace stress and adjust – from reduced hours, or a shift in responsibilities, to time off for counselling support, or accommodating specifically requested days.

Keep the dialogue open and ask how they are coping

It could be helpful to consult a bereavement support provider on shaping a grief-aware peer-to-peer culture within your organisation. Cruse Bereavement Care provides bereavement support training and consultancy for companies, managers and employees.

How much time off does a bereaved employee need?

Some organisations adopt a fixed-day policy for paid bereavement leave, while others may scale paid days off according to the relationship the employee had with the person who has died.

It’s recommended that at least some time is extended to employees on paid terms. For many people who lose a close loved one, the days and weeks after the funeral is a time when they begin to fully register their loss and grieve.

If paid extended compassionate leave is not within your company policy, they should be able to choose whether to take additional time from their paid holiday entitlement, as unpaid leave. Be open to discussing how reduced hours or more flexible shifts could support them in their role, through grief.

Personal circumstances can vary – an employee grieving the death of their partner may need additional time to care for children, for instance – while the emotional impact of a bereavement may leave another finding it difficult to cope.

It’s good practice to have a bereavement policy in place so all employees are aware of their entitlement to paid and unpaid days off. Be prepared to be flexible, in order to accommodate circumstances on a case-by-case basis.

Ensure compassionate leave is compassionate

Not every business can factor in extended paid leave for employees to grieve, but they can help alleviate some of the pressure to support their recovery.

Understanding that bereavement and the grieving process is non-linear, life-changing and requires a period of healing, can be a helpful starting point for considering contingency plans that you can already have in place when an employee is bereaved.

The National Council for Palliative Care is behind the Compassionate Employer programme, developed by working with a group of expert advisors and authors who specialise in bereavement support. Organisations that register with it have access to a range of support and resources, including helpful literature, a range of workshops for managers, HR personnel and employees, plus a template for companies to base their own bereavement policy around.

“Companies that stand by the people who work for them do the right thing and the smart thing,” says Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.

“It helps them serve their mission, live their values, and improve their bottom line by increasing the loyalty and performance of their workforce.”