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Supporting Bereaved Employees

Sinead Murphy Nov 24, 2023 10:43:58 AM

With National Grief Awareness Week taking place between 2nd- 8th December, we wanted to share some simple tips to help you support bereaved staff with compassion, empathy, and understanding.  

Coping with bereavement is a complicated and challenging process. At times, the pain can feel overwhelming. At others, it’s hard to feel anything but numb. And while there’s no right or wrong way to grieve, many people will struggle to return to work and remain mentally present following the loss of a loved one.  

The devastating nature of bereavement can affect all areas of an employee’s working life. From impacting productivity and concentration to causing unpredictable waves of sadness and anxiety, it’s vital that your people feel supported in order to make their return to work more manageable. Without this support, employees may:   

  • Need extended time off beyond your bereavement leave policy  
  • Struggle to concentrate and remain productive   
  • Find it difficult to problem solve or plan tasks  
  • Suffer from memory impairment and forgetfulness  
  • Become socially withdrawn in the workplace  
  • Experience a significant drop in morale  

In just one year, 24% of employees will experience bereavement. However, a quarter of those employees (around 2 million people) will experience grief to an intensity that impairs their ability to work and increases their risk of developing physical and mental health conditions. 

When we consider that, on average, a bereaved employee will take around 22 days off and experience a 30% reduction in productivity during the first six months after experiencing loss, it’s hardly surprising that grief is costing the UK economy £22.6 billion per year.   

Research tells us that 77% of 18 to 34-year-olds would consider leaving their job if they didn’t receive adequate support when bereaved – a sentiment that was also echoed by 57% of the wider workforce. However, with the right tools and protocols in place, employers can create an open, compassionate culture that supports bereaved staff when they need it most.  


Encourage Open Communication 

A report commissioned by Sue Ryder found that a third of employees who experienced bereavement over the last year had received no communication from their managers. The report also found that managers who were seen to be offering supportive communication in the wake of bereavement:  

  • Took the time to speak to the grieving employee  
  • Sent personal condolences such as flowers, cards, and gifts – where appropriate 
  • Checked on the employee’s wellbeing during bereavement leave  
  • Asked if the bereaved employee wanted their colleagues to be made aware of the loss  
  • Continued to check in with the employee after they returned to work  

Conversations about death don’t have to be uncomfortable. By building an open culture where the topic of grief is addressed in a compassionate yet direct way, you can let your staff know that it’s safe to open up and seek support if they’re struggling.   

To encourage even more open conversation in the workplace, employers can train mental health first aiders to deal with bereavement, provide additional support via employee networks, and conduct regular group sharing sessions to help staff feel more comfortable talking about their experiences.  


Offer Flexible Working 

While some bereaved employees will welcome the distraction of work, others will feel overwhelmed by the idea. That’s why it’s important to offer flexible working options that support staff when they return to the workplace, and as they navigate the ongoing aftermath of loss.  

Depending on their preference and personal circumstances, a bereaved employee may need to reduce their workload, amend their hours, or work from a different location where possible.  


Create a Comfortable Return to Work 

When an employee who has recently experienced loss returns to work, employers should understand that their morale and productivity may be impacted for some time. Reassure the employee that their wellbeing is your main concern during this difficult time – not their output.  

You can also ask the employee if they would like the news of their loss to be shared amongst their colleagues. This will help make the transition easier for those who wish to receive condolences and comfort, and also for those who would rather not acknowledge their loss in the workplace.  

However a person chooses to deal with their return to work after bereavement, it’s important to check in on them in a private, gentle way during the following months. Whether you take them for a morning coffee or give them a call just to ask how they are, regularly touching base with the employee will let them know that support is on hand if and when they need it.  


Signpost to External Resources  

Our fully accredited Employee Assistance Programme can help your people navigate the grieving process in a compassionate way with access to information, resources, and 24/7 telephone support. This includes in-the-moment support delivered by a specialist bereavement counsellor who can provide CBT techniques to support the employee manage their feelings and keep their mental health on track.  



07240 - Bereavement in the workplace Report A4 20pp.indd ( 

More workplace support is needed for staff facing grief ( 

What is bereavement? - Mind 

How to ask for bereavement or compassionate leave from your employer (