Half of bereaved workers return to work earlier than they would like, poll finds

23 Sep 2021 By Francis Churchill

Experts say employees who have lost loved ones need to ‘feel supported and trusted’ to do what is right for them

Nearly half of bereaved employees are going back to work earlier than they would like because they can’t afford to take more leave, a charity has warned, calling on employers to do more to support staff who have lost loved ones.

A survey of 1,000 employees, all of whom had experienced bereavement in the last year, found 49 per cent returned to work before they were ready because they could not afford to stay off work.

The poll, conducted by Marie Curie, found nearly one in five (19 per cent) also said they received no paid leave for bereavement that was additional to their normal leave entitlement, while more than half (54 per cent) worried about their job security when taking time off.

Ken Akers, head of HR at Marie Curie, said that work can provide a routine and a sense of normality for some during a time of crisis, but returning to work before you are ready can also complicate the grieving process. “Whatever [their] decision, employees must feel supported and trusted to do what is best for them,” said Akers.

Akers also urged employers to make sure staff feel equipped and supported to talk, saying this was part of creating a “healthy environment around bereavement”. “It can be difficult to find the words or know how to support our colleagues but we must all find the courage to talk,” he said.

“It might be a difficult and uncomfortable conversation but it’s so important.”

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The poll also found that more than half (51 per cent) of those polled found they experienced performance issues in the months following their bereavements. But, the research, which also took testimonials from bereaved staff, found many had not been adequately supported through this by their employers.

One respondent, who had recently lost their father, told Marie Curie that when she returned to work she received feedback that she wasn’t performing at the same level as her colleagues in similar roles, despite the fact that her employer was aware she had recently been bereaved.

“At the time I thought that was a fair comment but on reflection I was going through one of the hardest times of my life, and they knew that,” she told the charity.

“No one knows how to act around you and people didn’t know what to say, which is understandable. But my manager didn’t take me aside to check in on me [and] in one of the morning meetings she even asked, ‘why all the long faces, why is everyone so down?’.”

Commenting on the findings, Claire McCartney, senior policy adviser for resourcing and inclusion at the CIPD, said: it was “crucial that organisations properly support their bereaved colleagues”.

“Employees that have experienced a close family bereavement will need time to come to terms with what’s happened and will be unlikely to be able to perform well at work if they are forced to return too quickly,” she said.

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