Ken Akers: How employers can help employees experiencing grief at work

As a nation we have made good progress in supporting wellbeing at work and together we can improve how we handle grief, too. Coping with a bereavement at work is never easy but lack of support from an employer can make things so much worse.

At Marie Curie, we know the right support can make a world of difference to someone who has been bereaved.

Part of creating a healthy environment around bereavement at work is about staff feeling equipped and supported to talk. It can be difficult to find the words or know how to support staff but we must all find the courage and time to talk. It might be a difficult and uncomfortable conversation but it is so important. We know that people are missing out on the support they need from their employers at an incredibly difficult time of their lives.

If an employee is grieving, lack of or the wrong support from an employer can make things much worse during the hardest of times. What employers do can make a big difference to their employee’s experience, as well as their ability to return to work. Use common sense and empathy to provide flexible support in a way that is sensitive to the needs of the bereaved employee, and to the wider team whose workload may be impacted too.

Employers should make sure they know their organisation’s bereavement policy and are clear about the process for applying for leave. The policy should help support the person who has been bereaved and outline any legal requirements that might need consideration. It can also be helpful to check the other ways that an organisation can provide support.

Grief can have a significant impact on a person’s ability to do their job. It can affect their sleep, appetite, confidence, and how well they can concentrate. Bear in mind that some people find that work is a helpful distraction from grief, so they may want to resume their usual workload quickly. Others may find they benefit from the routine of work but find it harder to perform at their previous level for some time.

Try not to make assumptions about what might be best for employees; it is important they feel they can discuss their needs with their employer. These needs might change over time, so take this into consideration when discussing a return to work with them.

Ken Akers is head of HR at Marie Curie

Read more:

Sign up to our newsletters

Receive news and guidance on a range of HR issues direct to your inbox

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Is bereavement discussed enough in the workplace?

Royds Withy King provides compassionate and bereavement leave to support staff