Bereaved workers failed by employers

9 January 2014
Bereaved people in Britain are being failed by a lack of support in the workplace, according to a new report by Dying Matters together with our lead charity, the National Council for Palliative Care, and the National Bereavement Alliance

The report, ‘Life after death: six steps to improve support in bereavement’, reveals that a third of people who were bereaved in the last five years while in a job do not feel their employers treated them with compassion.

Despite an uncertain jobs market, the ComRes research also found that more than half of the 4,000 people polled would consider leaving their job if their employer did not provide proper support if someone close to them died.

The research found considerable public backing for bereavement support in the workplace, with more than four in five people agreeing that all employers should have a compassionate employment policy, including paid bereavement leave, flexible working and a range of other support.

Most people also appear to think that employers themselves could gain from a more compassionate approach to bereavement, with 82% of people saying that providing employees with paid bereavement leave is likely to be beneficial to the employer in the long-term. Some 81% said there should be a legal right to receive paid bereavement leave: at present, there is no statutory paid bereavement leave although employees have the right to “reasonable” unpaid time off to deal with practicalities such as arranging a funeral.

As a starting point, the report calls on all employers to ensure they have an updated bereavement policy, which sets out what support employees who have been bereaved are entitled to. It also recommends that the Government commissions a national review of employment practice and bereavement, which explores the feasibility of minimum statutory bereavement leave and highlights good practice that employers could learn from.

In response to the report’s findings, we are today announcing the launch of ‘Compassionate employers’. This is a new national initiative aimed at supporting businesses who want to improve their approach to end of life issues, including through improved support for people who have been bereaved, support for carers and training for managers and staff.

"The costs of bereavement are too great to ignore, both for individuals and for society," said Eve Richardson, Chief Executive of the National Council for Palliative Care and the Dying Matters Coalition.

"Employers have an important role to play by being compassionate and having a bereavement policy in place. They should also ensure that they support their managers so that they are confident in having sensitive discussions about end of life issues with their staff. It is also often the little things that matter and help make a difference, such as kind words from a manager or a card to say we are thinking of you. 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.”

Dawn Chaplin, Co-founder of the National Bereavement Alliance, added: "Learning to live with the loss of someone close is one of the most painful experiences we can encounter, and society’s response often makes it even harder. There’s an urgent need to improve access to bereavement services, and to ensure that people who have been bereaved are not ignored or left isolated."

Lucy Herd, founder of Jack’s Rainbow, a campaign for the government to review statutory bereavement leave since the death of her young son Jack in August 2010, said much more needs to be done for people who have lost a loved one. She said: It’s completely unrealistic to expect people who have lost someone close to them to immediately go back to work and carry on as normal. That’s why we need a new approach to how we support people who have been bereaved, so that they get the support they need whenever they need it.”

As well as making recommendations around improving bereavement support in the workplace, the report calls for improved training to support all staff who come into regular contact with people who have been recently bereaved. It also calls for a national review of the impact on bereaved people of welfare reforms including changes to bereavement benefit, the introduction of Universal Credit and the under-occupancy charge, and for the appointment of a Government Minister with special responsibility for bereavement to help ensure joined-up policymaking.

Download 'Life after death: six steps to improve support in bereavement' (pdf)

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