Workplace expert Acas has today published its new guide on managing bereavement in the workplace.

It is estimated that one in ten people are directly affected by bereavement and research has found that a third of employees who had suffered bereavement in the past five years felt that they had not been treated with compassion by their employer. Nearly nine out ten people believed all employers should have a compassionate employment policy that included paid bereavement leave.

Acas’ new guide has been developed in partnership with Cruse Bereavement Care, bereavement leave campaigner Lucy Herd and many other organisations.

Acas Chair Sir Brendan Barber said: “Grief from the death of a loved one can be an extremely sad and emotional experience for anyone. It can affect people in different ways in the workplace and managers should have the skills needed to handle it.

“Our guide aims to help employers manage this difficult situation with their employee in the immediate aftermath of bereavement as well as longer term.

“It includes advice for managers on how to get the balance right in order to be supportive, compassionate, flexible and practical towards employees who are dealing with bereavement.”

Lucy Herd is a bereavement leave campaigner and trainer who tragically lost her son Jack four years ago. Since then, she has worked hard to change the law on how employers treat people who have suffered bereavement and set up the charity Jack’s Rainbow three years ago: “The new guidance, which I was pleased to contribute to, will help employers create more informed bereavement and compassionate leave policies and to understand better how to support a bereaved person in the workplace.”

Debbie Kerslake is the Chief Executive of Cruse Bereavement Care, which works with more than 40,000 bereaved people each year: “As the leading bereavement care charity in the UK, we are very aware of the significant impact bereavement can have on the workplace.  This new guide provides extremely helpful and straightforward advice for employers and managers about what to do when an employee is bereaved, from taking the first call, helping the employee return to work to providing ongoing support.”

Acas’ good practice advice to employers on managing bereavement includes:

  • Grief does not have predicted stages and phases. Everyone reacts differently to bereavement and this should be understood and respected by both employers and colleagues.
  • Employers can prepare for managing bereavement in the workplace by having a clear policy on it and training managers, HR teams and selected staff to have compassionate and effective conversations with bereaved colleagues. It is good practice to involve trade unions or staff representative in developing a bereavement policy.
  • A calm empathetic approach in all communications from managers will ensure employees feel supported and minimise their anxiety about returning to work.
  • Some employees may feel able to return to work very swiftly, whilst others may need more time. The relationship with the person who died and the circumstances of the death will all have an impact on the employee, particularly if the death was sudden or traumatic.
  • It is often difficult for bereaved employees to judge how they will feel in the workplace and a swift return to work does not necessarily mean that an employee will not need support.
  • There are likely to be ups and downs as a person suffering from grief adjusts to life without the person they lost. The full emotional impact of the bereavement may not be felt for some time after a death.
  • Employers need to be mindful of the family unit of the bereaved and appreciate that in many cases, a flexible approach such as offering part-time hours or flexible working is more likely to support and retain the employee and minimise sick days as they negotiate new or increased caring responsibilities.

Speaking today in response to new ACAS guidance on managing bereavement at work, Claire Henry, Chief Executive of the National Council for Palliative Care, which leads the Dying Matters Coalition said: “Every minute someone in the UK dies, and almost half of us report having been bereaved in the last five years. Yet society’s response, including in the workplace, often falls short – making it even harder for people to come to terms with the loss of someone close to them.

“That’s why we are delighted to welcome this important new ACAS guidance which we fed into, and believe it should become required reading for all employers, supported by training for all line managers in talking about sensitive issues such as bereavement. Whether it’s through providing time off or flexible working for employees who have been bereaved or sensitive conversations and offers of support, employers can make a massive difference. With the number of people dying each year set to increase there’s never been a more important time to get bereavement support right, both in the workplace and throughout society.”