Grief – How to Support Grieving Employees

Posted in : HR Updates on 3 November 2021
Olga Pollock
firmus energy
Issues covered: Bereavement; Bereavement Policy; Annual Review; Covid-19

I wrote an article back in June 2020 on the importance of kindness shown to employees in the wake of a bereavement. My inspiration stemmed from the loss of my own mother the previous month during the first Covid-19 lockdown and now, almost 18 months later, I wanted to reflect back on that time in my life and what impact my employer’s response to my loss had on my ability to grieve and my overall morale within the workplace.

It is said that the loss of a parent is typically something which most of us can cope with. This does not lessen the profound sadness we feel when a parent dies but generally speaking, most of us will move through the stages of grief before we eventually come to terms with our loss. In my own personal experience, I was unable to be physically present in the final stages of mum’s life and the absence of a proper funeral service led me to having difficulty accepting her death. Even now, several months later I think about her every day and still feel some disbelief at times. The grieving process was compounded in the absence of the usual support network and traditional rituals surrounding the death. I especially missed hugs from my dearest friends as everyone had to stand a safe distance apart by the graveside.

These are the additional responses to grief beyond the expected heartbreak, numbness and exhaustion that employers should be mindful of when an employee suffers a bereavement during this pandemic.

From my own personal experience, I am still so grateful for the kindness that was shown to me by my employer on the lead up to and following mum’s death. There were so many impromptu trips to the hospital and long stints in the Emergency Department, yet I did not have the added burden of guilt at having to leave work at short notice. This is due to five kind words that were said to me by my boss one frantic afternoon when I got another dreaded call; “Take whatever time you need.” Those words were exactly what I needed at that time. That compassion meant the world to me and still does and for that reason I am very committed to my employer due to the time and space I was granted to allow me to focus on me, mum and my family.

Of course, it is important for employers to have a bereavement policy in place and the more generous we can be with leave, the better, That said, I always struggle with putting a timeframe around grief. Your policy should also include parental bereavement leave and pay and emergency time off for family and dependants.

Given that a significant proportion of employees do not feel they receive a compassionate response from their employer when they suffer a bereavement and a high proportion take sickness absence, it is clear that aside from a policy, there is a need for improved training to support staff and to communicate effectively and regularly with bereaved employees. Line managers in particular play an important role in influencing a grieving employee’s experience of the workplace.

Employees should also be signposted to internal and external support through the likes of your Employee Assistance Programme, Mental Health First Aider (if in place), the employee’s GP or online communities such as Cruse or MIND.

There is no doubt that as a society we struggle with death and how to respond to it. By simply asking the employee how they are coping after the loss of their loved one is a simple yet powerful approach to providing that person with the opportunity to talk. It also shows you care. Showing genuine concern and actively listening to them can really help that person come to terms with their loss. It is simply not acceptable to avoid the subject, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you feel.

The main takeaway from this article is that as employers we need to show real compassion towards bereaved employees and embed a culture of support. How employees are treated by their employer is likely to have a significant impact on how they handle the bereavement, and how employees feel towards their organisation and their work in general going forward.

Useful reading:

Cruse Bereavement Support:


CIPD A Guide to Compassionate Bereavement Support:

This article is correct at 03/11/2021

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Olga Pollock
firmus energy

The main content of this article was provided by Olga Pollock. Contact telephone number is +44 (0)79 7389 3448 or email

View all articles by Olga Pollock