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The light in the dark… supporting employees through grief

6 December 2023

The 2nd to 8th of December is National Grief Awareness Week, with the campaign focusing on connecting communities with bereavement services. Many employees will, at some point, grieve in the workplace, with their colleagues forming part of their immediate community. During this blog, we’ll explore how employers can support their employees through grief, empowering managers with the skills they’ll need to help.

In the UK, there’s no statutory right regarding paid bereavement leave. Most employers offer three to five days of paid leave, judging each situation individually. Employees who want or need to take more time off are generally expected to request unpaid leave or use their annual leave allowance.


However, there are some circumstances where this may differ, and ACAS is a valuable resource for employees unsure of their entitlement, should they need it.


58% of employees said grief impacted their performance at work months after bereavement (Marie Curie).


Grief doesn’t come with a time limit, but as human beings with loved ones in our lives, we know that we’ll need more than three days to come to terms with our loss. However, we also know that we need to work to pay our bills, especially if we have dependents.


For this reason, many employees will go through the grief cycle whilst continuing to work, which is why employers and managers must prepare to support them.


The importance of flexibility

Bereavement in the workplace is thought to cost the UK economy nearly £23bn a year, and not due to absenteeism, but presenteeism (Sue Ryder).


Presenteeism is a topic we discuss often concerning sickness absences. Presenteeism – working when not at full physical health – costs the economy more than absenteeism does. It makes sense that the same is true with those not at peak emotional or mental health.


It’s true that employees can request either annual or unpaid leave, taking some of the extra time they need to grieve away from the office, but this has financial implications. Bereaved employees may face financial changes and be reliant on their income.


Additional flexibility on working hours and location is essential, ensuring employees can manage their changing home life and even step away from work if needed.


Creating a community

54% of employees expressed concern that taking time off work would affect their job security (Marie Curie)​.


Psychologist, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, identified five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance in 1969. There’s no set time limit for each stage – it will be unique for all, but one or more of these stages will likely occur whilst at work.


It’s essential to ensure that, at the very minimum, your people managers can recognise these signs and provide the necessary support at each stage, even if that’s signposting to the best source of help.


Employees will inform HR or their manager if a bereavement requires them to take time off work. Advice from grief counsellors is that it’s beneficial to make colleagues aware of the loss to ensure they can act with empathy, and people managers and HR can take on this task. This means that when an employee does return to work, they can avoid triggering conversations.


Remove the taboo


The taboo that surrounds discussing grief at work isn’t born from a lack of compassion and understanding. It’s likely to be because colleagues and employers can relate to the extent of the suffering and fear making the situation worse.


There’s no denying that it’s a difficult subject to discuss, requiring emotional resilience from your people leaders and trust from the grieving employee. HR leaders can help remove the taboo by clearly communicating their bereavement policies alongside any other employee benefits or workplace policies.  


Creating a culture of openness and support is essential for helping employees through the grieving process, ensuring they don’t suffer in silence. Often, the workplace, the routine – the distraction it offers, and the sense of control can be precisely what a grieving employee needs.


Empowering managers


When employees progress through their careers to people management, they undergo specific training to help them give their best. Bereavement training is unlikely to be offered as standard. That’s why ensuring managers have the resources they need when they need them can be a game-changer for them and those they’re trying to support.


14% of HR professionals claimed they weren’t confident they could effectively support or even know what to say to a bereaved employee (Marie Curie).


Our Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), one of the most valuable employee benefits for supporting employee mental health, contains resources your managers can use to give them the confidence and information needed to support a grieving colleague. Available at the touch of a button via our accompanying app, your people leaders can feel empowered to make a significant difference in the lives of those who need it most.


Providing professional support

Depression is a natural stage of grief, but the severity of it differs from person to person. Sometimes, family, friends, colleagues, and managers can’t give what’s needed. Providing grieving employees with the ability to contact a professional can be a lifesaver.


EAPs are an investment in your people, protecting and supporting them whenever needed. We shouldn’t put a price on our employees’ mental health, but in business, money matters. The funds must be available, which is why it’s good to know that for every £1 you invest in supporting your employees’ mental health, you can expect a £5.30 return (Deloitte), making the provision of support a business and people essential.


Be the light your employees need with Pluxee UK

Our Employee Assistance Programme is an impactful employee benefit that provides your entire workforce access to BACP-accredited counsellors 24/7, 365 days a year, and an app full of resources, including a grief journal, podcasts, and insights to help them through their grief. It also has a crisis support feature if they need help immediately.


The best thing you can do for your employees is spread the National Grief Awareness Week ‘Better Together’ message, ensuring you’ve created a culture that leaves them with no doubt that you’re in their corner every step of the way.


Arrange a call with an employee engagement consultant to discover what EAP can offer you and your employees support whenever needed.






Marie Curie

Sue Ryder