More workplace support is needed for staff facing grief

Conversations around death and dying don’t have to be uncomfortable if employers are able to foster an open culture, says Paul Fraser

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According to our research, over the past five years 57 per cent of people have experienced a bereavement. Death, grief and caring responsibilities affect our everyday lives, including at work. But recent data from Hospice UK’s Compassionate Employers programme shows that more support and training is needed across workplaces in the UK. When facing these challenges your professional environment can impact how you can access support, what support is available, and who you can talk to.

Do people feel comfortable talking about bereavement at work?

Across the UK, there are vast differences in support offered by workplaces to employees who face death, grief or caring responsibilities at home. Some employers offer varying periods of leave, with different definitions of immediate or close family, and specific employee assistance programmes (EAPs). 

According to recent data, almost a quarter (23 per cent) of employees would not feel comfortable talking to their line manager about a bereavement they have experienced. Additionally, this discomfort can come from both directions, with only 17 per cent of managers stating they would feel very confident supporting someone who reports to them if they had experienced a bereavement. 

These statistics show there is work to be done to enable open conversations about death and bereavement in the workplace, so managers and direct reports feel comfortable seeking support.

What support is currently available? 

Many workplaces make use of EAPs to support staff wellbeing. EAPs are hugely helpful, offering vital support and providing in-the-moment guidance that is a key element of workplace support. However, data shows that 33 per cent of employees who had experienced a bereavement did not use the EAP provided by their employer for support. Accessibility, the need for specialised support, lack of awareness or simply a complicated design could be preventing some employees from making use of the EAP provided by their employer.

Employers can make use of other support options, such as upskilling mental health first aiders to deal with bereavement, providing peer support through employee networks, or running training sessions to help staff feel more comfortable talking about grief at work.

With a range of support in place, employees and employers can feel confident that there are different support options that can allow people to access the right style of specialist support, tailored to their needs, at the right time.

How can you create an open culture around death and grief? 

Often, it starts with just having a conversation. Conversations around death, dying and grief do not have to be taboo or uncomfortable. Building this open culture and reinforcing it with further support options, resources and training can have benefits for employers that go beyond staff wellbeing.

Our research showed that three-quarters (77 per cent) of 18 to 34-year-olds would consider leaving their job, compared to 57 per cent for the wider workforce, if they didn’t receive proper support when bereaved.

Offering quality, specialist support and working to establish a compassionate culture within the workplace is vital to future proofing an organisation, alongside attracting and retaining quality emerging talent. Senior leadership can play an important role in creating an open culture. Through visible engagement, discussion of death and dying can become normalised, legitimising people’s experiences and empowering employees to feel comfortable talking about grief in the workplace. Creating an open culture won’t happen overnight, but help is out there.

What other support is out there? 

The research showed that 57 per cent of employees would find it helpful if their workplace provided a specific bereavement support package or helpline – something Hospice UK is trying to support. Compassionate Employers is our new workplace support programme. As experts in end-of-life care, we understand the journey from a diagnosis to bereavement. The programme includes support not just for bereaved employees, but for those with caring responsibilities and any employee affected by a life-changing diagnosis such as a life-limiting or terminal illness.

Compassionate Employers provides employees and their colleagues with the support they need at any stage of their journey, and can help everyone – employees, managers and HR teams – to feel confident and empowered to support their staff if they experience grief or bereavement, or are impacted by a terminal illness diagnosis.

Through training and the right resources, employers can support their employees with a more hands-on approach. The programme provides businesses with the tools to create a more understanding culture that allows room for people’s challenges, and the readily available skills to support employees and managers.

You can find out more by visiting

Paul Fraser is head of workplace support programmes at Hospice UK