Skip to content

February’s Employment Law Digest – Supporting those who are grieving in the workplace

Grief impacts people in different ways, but one thing the majority of us have in common is that we will experience grief at some point in our lives.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve and everyone will deal with bereavement in their own way. We have caught up with John Devitt, Chief Executive Officer at Recovery4Life, who shared his thoughts on grief and how people deal with it differently. John comments:

“Grief is an intensely personal and unique experience, as it is the emotional response to loss. It can be triggered by various forms of loss, including the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, or the loss of a job. Grief is a natural and necessary process, allowing people to come to terms with their loss, heal, and find meaning again. It is a rollercoaster of emotions, encompassing sadness, anger, guilt, and confusion. Grief can also lead to physical and cognitive symptoms, such as fatigue, difficulty concentrating, increased sensitivity to pain, a reduced immune system and sleep disturbances.” 

A report published by Sue Ryder, a national bereavement support charity, confirmed that in 2019 24% of the working population in the UK experienced a bereavement. This equates to around 7.9 million people. Whilst these are the latest statistics published, the level of bereavement experienced is likely to be higher following the pandemic. It was also estimated that bereavement could have a total cost of approximately £22.9 billion to the economy in any given year, which is made up of around £4.4 billion in respect of absenteeism, £16 billion in respect of presenteeism and £2.5 billion in reduced employment.

John explained that it is essential to realise that “Each person’s background, personality, cultural beliefs, and relationship with the deceased shapes their grieving process and can have a significant impact on the workplace“. It is important to recognise that “employees may need more time off or flexible work arrangements to attend to their grief, while others may prefer routine and work as a distraction“.

Employers should increase their awareness of the steps they can take to support those who may be grieving in their workforce. People suffering from grief may choose to keep things to themselves and not reach out to colleagues or managers. This is particularly common in the workplace as people may feel that opening up about a loss they have suffered is going to impact on their future career or the view their manager may have of them. People often feel that talking about their grief is going to have a negative impact on the wider working environment and therefore choose to suffer in silence.

One of the key messages put forward by The Good Grief Trust is that distance shouldn’t mean we can’t share our grief. Hybrid working has resulted in a large part of the population spending more time alone and away from their colleagues which can in turn make it harder for people to talk about their wellbeing and share their feelings. People are therefore dealing with bereavement whilst being socially isolated. It is fundamental that we still ensure we reach out to colleagues and friends and check in on people and their general wellbeing. Often the initial step of making contact with a colleague may encourage them to speak out and share their grief.

It is also important to remember that everyone will grieve differently. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Having an understanding of this is fundamental to ensuring you create a supportive environment. John explained to us that ” misunderstandings can arise when colleagues or employers expect everyone to grieve in the same way. It is crucial for workplaces to foster a culture of empathy and flexibility, recognising and accommodating individual circumstances and to allow individuals to navigate the grieving process at their own pace.”

Stay up to date with:

  • Trending Topics
  • Latest Insights
  • Upcoming Events
  • Company Updates

Top Tips

  1. Make sure you have a Bereavement Policy

Many employers will have a bereavement leave policy. It is worth reviewing these and ensuring they are up to date. Whilst each set of individual circumstances does need to be considered on its own merits, having a generous bereavement policy in place does ensure that managers are not given too much discretion when it comes to granting time off. Often the complaints following a period of bereavement are not about the policies in place but instead about the consistency and fairness in which they are applied. Having a comprehensive bereavement policy in place ensures that both line managers and employees are clear on what to expect if they do experience a loss.

  1. Communicate

Ensuring you take the time to speak to bereaved employees and ask them what support they need is often the first hurdle to overcome. Bereavement is often a taboo topic as people are so worried about saying the wrong thing that they choose not to say anything at all. This is often the worst thing that can be done. Ignoring the fact someone has suffered loss is not helpful and will in turn result in the grieving process taking longer, or the individual feeling under valued at work. Often a simple question to start a conversation about how someone is feeling or if there is anything you can do to support them helps break down those barriers and remove the stigma.

  1. Create a Culture Change

It is important to work towards creating a workplace environment where people feel comfortable talking about grief. By opening up about loss, other employees may feel that it is acceptable to talk about their own experiences which will help normalise the conversation and raise awareness.

  1. Offer practical support

Offering flexibility in workloads and shift patterns is one way in which employers could potentially support those employees who are grieving. Employees who have recently suffered loss may benefit from lighter duties or reduced working hours for a period of time. Any practical changes should be agreed and discussed with the individual employee as the same thing will not always benefit everyone in the same way.

  1. Don’t put a time limit on the grieving process

Everyone will deal with loss and grief in their own way. You should not place pressure on an individual to be “back to normal” within a set period of time. Whilst many individuals will feel they are able to return to work after a few days (or perhaps wont take time off at all) there needs to be some acceptance of the fact that individual may still be grieving and therefore may not be performing at their usual level. Be patient with this and keep the communication open so you are prepared and aware of how to support that individual as best as you can.

John Devitt will be part of a panel of experts joining us for a webinar on Tuesday 26th March 2024 at 10am to discuss the topic of grief in more detail. The panel will share a range of experiences and top tips on how to deal with grief in the workplace.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

This page may contain links that direct you to third party websites. We have no control over and are not responsible for the content, use by you or availability of those third party websites, for any products or services you buy through those sites or for the treatment of any personal information you provide to the third party.

Continue reading for free

This article is from our dedicated employment hub HR Protect. Please visit the hub to view the full article, completely for free.

Take me there

Follow us on LinkedIn

Keep up to date with all the latest updates and insights from our expert team

Take me there

What we're thinking