We all experience loss or bereavement at some point; it’s a difficult time. We hope for support from our loved ones, friends and families. But what support should employees reasonably expect from employers, and what steps can organisations take to actively help bereaved employees?

It’s not always easy, as grief is an unpredictable and intense emotion, and everyone reacts in their own way. But you and your management team can provide compassionate help to your employees – here are some ways to help staff who may be suffering a bereavement.

Recognise the stages of grief

Grief isn’t a single emotion. It comes in different forms, as defined by the Kübler-Ross model:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Each of these presents its own challenges to the workplace. Someone in denial may be suffering additional issues that they mask, someone experiencing anger can lash out – even those who have accepted their loss may act in strange and unusual ways.

Try not to judge people who seem to be acting unpredictably. It’s not personal, and they don’t mean to make anyone else’s life more difficult.

Make sure people can talk

There’s still a culture in many organisations that requires people to keep their emotions to themselves. This has a negative effect on people who are suffering, whether from a mental health issue, physical ailment, or the pain of loss.

When someone loses someone close to them, it can unleash a torrent of emotions, mostly negative, which can make them act irrationally.

If a member of your team is going through a bereavement, make sure that you’re prepared for this. Grieving people can lash out, cry, or seem easily irritated. Ensure you support them through this stage of the grieving process by making sure they have a space where they can talk freely about how they feel.

The pressure of grief, when combined with the pressure of work, is powerful. If an employee knows they have a safe space at work where they can talk to someone they trust, this will help them with their grief, both at work and home.


Make sure you treat people with compassion and care. They’ll find their problems much easier to deal with when they have a friendly listening ear, and they’ll be able to get back to normal far more quickly.

If they take compassionate or bereavement leave, depending on your company’s policy, communicate clearly about expectations on their return to work. Offer phased returns if necessary and expect flexible working requests. For example, if an employee’s partner has died, leaving them with sole responsibility for raising their children, or if the employee has lost a sibling, leaving them with sole responsibility for caring for ill or aging parents, they may need to change their working circumstances. Treat this with care and empathy.

Train your managers

Line managers are vital in supporting employees at all times, but especially so during times of grief. They need to not only provide a compassionate ear to the one experiencing bereavement, but they also need to know how to communicate to the rest of the team when something is wrong.

A line manager is a point of contact between an employee and an organisation, and as such represents the organisation in times like this. Sensitivity training and active support from senior managers should be given to them – this is just as important as the organisation’s approach to supporting the bereaved.

Know your obligations, and help with entitlements

While there isn’t actually a law defining compassionate or bereavement leave, the Employment Rights Act 1996 means employees can take time off to deal with an emergency. Bereavement, certainly in the case of close family, would fall under this.

Therefore, it’s a good idea to have a clear bereavement policy in place. It can seem like a slightly morbid thing to formalise, but it won’t take long; there are example policies available from Acas.

They may be eligible for financial assistance, for example the Bereavement Support Payment, which is available to those whose spouse or civil partner has died. Many people are unaware of this, so it’s a good idea to have a line manager gently ask about it.

Provide resources

A great way to provide help is with an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). An EAP offers staff and their immediate family access to a 24/7 telephone helpline that can provide support on a range of personal and work-related issues, including bereavement. If you have an EAP in place, remind any employees who may be suffering a bereavement to contact the EAP where they’ll be able to get support from an expert.

An EAP also offers support for managers – they can get telephone support and guidance to help them deal with workplace challenges, for example supporting a member of staff through a bereavement.

To find out more about Sovereign Health Care and how our cash plans can help support your staff and business, visit sovereignhealthcare.co.uk/business

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