Sunday 30 August marks National Grief Awareness Day in the UK. While grief is a very present issue for thousands at any one time, this year may be particularly poignant for many given the more-than 46,000 deaths that have occurred as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK alone.
In April this year, Jack’s Law came into effect, giving all parents who have experienced the death of a child under the age of 18 or a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy, a minimum of two weeks statutory leave. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has since called for this to be extended to any employee who experiences the death of a close family member.
With one in 10 employees estimated to be affected by bereavement at any one time, should there be greater onus on employers to support grieving employees? After all, while paid leave may be much needed in the early days, grief is a long-term process, so how far should organisational support continue to support staff? How many organisations offer open-ended support for as long as it is needed? While many employers certainly do offer this level of support, how common is this?
A big issue for employers, particularly in current times when many workforces are continuing to work remotely, is identifying affected employees. While many staff may be willing to approach their employer for support following the death of a close family member, such as a parent, child, sibling or partner, how many would be willing to do so following the loss of a close friend, for example? Yet, such circumstances can be just as devastating. In many cases, support may be available, but employees do not feel able to access it, or are unaware that it is even on offer in their circumstances.
It can be difficult if employees do not feel able, or are unwilling, to ask for help, however, given grief can significantly impact mental wellbeing and, subsequently, productivity, not receiving the support they need may well lead to longer-term issues. Ensuring available benefits and initiatives are clearly communicated, therefore, is vital.
Several organisations, including Business in the Community and the National Bereavement Service have, this year, launched toolkits and services for employers that want to provide support for bereaved employees.
With Covid-19 set to continue for the foreseeable future, and the impact of the pandemic meaning a significant number of individuals have had lifesaving treatments delayed, these may be reflected in death rates for some time to come. The more support employers can provide to bereaved employees, therefore, the more bearable they may be able to make a devastating situation for so many.