How Employers Can Support Employees Returning from Bereavement Leave

Written by Calvin Bowers
Last updated Monday August 8 2022

Returning to work post-bereavement is never an easy task for anyone. It is an even worse experience if it is mismanaged by employers and HR staff. An unpleasant, rushed, or inappropriate return to work can often lead an employee to leave their job altogether. Something good neither for employee or employer. 

It is important, therefore, that employers understand how they can support their employees as best as possible in their return from bereavement leave. It is a sensitive time and it needs to be handled with care and respect.

When returns to work are handled well, everything can go much more smoothly for the employee, employer, and company at large. A positive transition increases staff morale, loyalty and retention.

It is something not to skip past. 

At Careers with Disabilities, we want to help employers out as much as possible when it comes to dealing with diverse members of staff. A big part of this is mental health and mental health management. 

We have written this blog to help you support your grieving employees to return to work in a safe and appropriate way. We have 4 easy steps that help break down your ideal process during this time.

Starting with:

1. Listen to What They Need

The first step to dealing with any employee’s personal issue is to listen. This is particularly important in this situation. Every period of absence will be different and every death will be different. If you try and apply the same support to every return to work, this will exclude a lot of people from getting the right help.

When your employee is about to return to work, make sure to make time to speak to them privately so that you can figure out what they need. This might take a few conversations over time.

Check-in with how they are feeling and what they need, and then put a support plan in place. Work with individuals on an individual basis and try not to tar everyone with the same brush.

Listening always helps.

2. Offer a Phased Return and Other Reasonable Adjustments

It is important not to throw an employee back into work after they have been absent for a while. Especially when it was due to grief and bereavement. 

Employees are entitled to support within work after they have returned from a long absence. One of the best ways that you can offer this support is via certain reasonable adjustments. The one that is probably the most helpful in this scenario is a phased return.

Phased returns can operate in multiple ways but they basically mean returning to work in a tapered, gradual way. You could offer shorter shifts to start, lunchtime finishes, rota work, and so on. Easing an employee back in gently always helps. Grief can take time and so it is ok if returning to work takes time too.

Other reasonable adjustments that you might offer for employees in this situation include: 

  • More breaks
  • Remote work
  • Time off for counselling/bereavement services
  • Temporary reduction of tasks/responsibilities

Again, what works for a certain employee will be highly individual to them and their own needs. Make sure listening and communicating come before the offer of any reasonable adjustments. 

When supporting someone through bereavement the most important thing is that we show empathy. We need to show that we care and that we can help. If we rush work-related things and head straight into admin, we can make a person feel much worse. We need to be gentle and caring throughout the process. It makes the world of difference. 

3. Be Patient and Flexible

As we have mentioned, grief takes time. So be patient. 

Your employee might show a dip in performance upon their return to work. They might not communicate so well with colleagues. They might avoid meetings.

Whatever it is, try to offer a period of “grace” in which you cut your employee a little slack. They are going through something tremendously hard and with a little support, they can come out of this rut much quicker. 

When you offer a reasonable adjustment in this return to work period, it might not always be successful straight away. It might take a couple of goes before you find what will help your employee the most. They are entitled to your best shot at support, not something rushed or impatient. 

Some bereavements might not be as tough as others and that is ok too. But for the ones that are, make sure you are as patient and flexible as possible. Returns to work are tricky and it might take some time to get it right. That is normal. 

4. Signpost to External Support

Even though you are required to make adjustments and to be appropriate with your employees post-bereavement, you can’t do it all. You aren’t expected to be a grief counsellor or support worker as well as a manager. 

It is always important to signpost to external support when you need to. If your employee is really struggling on their return, they might need some more help. Some great options include:

There are lots of ways you can support your employee at work but they might also need further help and that is ok. Signposting is a great way to support an employee. You can’t be expected to do it all alone.

You might need some support as an employer too. You can always contact Citizens Advice if you need guidance on certain issues relating to your employee’s rights. 

You can also find out more about becoming an inclusive and accessible employer right here on Careers with Disabilities

You can find plenty of resources on how to support your employees in a world of different ways on our site. Then, you can become one of the companies listed on our Disability-Friendly profiles.

Start putting your best foot forward for your employees today. 

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Last Updated: Monday August 8 2022

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