Understanding Grief in the Workplace

In any workplace, there will be people who have experienced bereavement, whether in their personal life or through the loss of a colleague.

It is important both for the wellbeing of individuals and the organisation as a whole that the impact of bereavement on individuals and teams is understood and that policies and practices are in place to ensure a safe and supportive environment. 

Bereavement can be a shattering experience and the mix and depth of emotions can be confusing and overwhelming.  This can influence all aspects of life and can cause people to feel physically unwell, anxious, have difficulty with concentration, focus and decision making.  Everyone responds differently to grief and for some people returning to work can feel very difficult, whilst others may find comfort in the structure and familiarity of their job.

It is essential, therefore, that workplaces make it as easy as possible for bereaved people to return to work by engaging with them to understand what would help them.  Where the death of a colleague is involved, consideration must be given to the impact on staff at all levels. This is beneficial not only to those who have been bereaved, but also to the organisation.  Effective support helps to maximise individual and team health, wellbeing and commitment, reduce absences due to bereavement and improve productivity of the individual organisation as a whole. 

Staff at all levels and in particular colleagues and managers of the bereaved person need to understand what they can do to offer support.  A discussion with the bereaved person before they return to work is the best way to explore what any particular person might find helpful.  For example:

  • Is it possible to offer a phased return to work?
  • Can work be altered to enable the person to be as effective as possible?
  • Is it possible for the person to take a break if feeling overwhelmed?
  • Is there a trusted colleague who can provide support?

It is also important to consider those within any organisation who come into contact with death, dying and bereavement in the course of their work.  For example - people working in health and social care, insurance, benefits offices, solicitors and many others.  Good structured support is essential to prevent burnout, absence and ill health of those working in these environments.

Cruse Scotland can help.

For information about our specialist training programme for organisations, including the NHS and first and second responders, please visit our training pages.

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