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Claire Henry: We need to talk about dying and bereavement support in the workplace

Friday 10 October 2014

In our blog series on workplace bereavement, Claire Henry, Chief Executive of the National Council for Palliative Care and the Dying Matters Coalition discusses the need to focus on how we deal with dying, death and bereavement.

 

Claire Henry

Claire Henry is Chief Executive of the National Council for Palliative Care and the Dying Matters Coalition which it leads.

Claire Henry

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 the new Acas guidance pdf icon Managing bereavement in the workplace - a good practice guide [184kb], which we were delighted to feed into, is so important and so welcome.

All too frequently people who have been bereaved report feeling isolated and being expected to "get on with it", even when they had been very close to the person who died or when their death had been unexpected. This can have a major impact on every aspect of someone's wellbeing, from physical and mental health to their ability to function in their professional or personal lives.

Whilst this lack of support for bereaved people is not only to be found in the workplace, significant numbers of bereaved people say they felt let down by their employer - something which our report, Life after death: six steps to improve bereavement support [PDF, 484kb], found earlier this year.

According to ComRes survey data contained in the report, almost a third of people who had been in a job when someone close to them died did not feel that their employer treated them with compassion, and a quarter said they had not been able to get the time off they needed. Moreover, more than half of the general public said they would consider leaving their job if their employer did not provide proper support to them if someone close to them died. This clearly has enormous implications for staff morale, productivity and retention.

Alongside clearer and more compassionate policies on bereavement support in the workplace there's arguably a need for improved training and support for line managers, who can play a hugely important role in supporting bereaved people.

For many people talking about dying and facing up to their own mortality still remains the final taboo, something either to be ignored or postponed indefinitely for a day that many of us like to believe will never come. As well as meaning that many of us don't take practical steps such as writing a will or thinking about the care we would want at the end of our lives, this unease has a major impact in the workplace. Many people, including managers, are unsure how to talk to people who have been bereaved or who are caring for someone who is dying. Employee assistance programmes can also make a real difference, by signposting people to the right support on end of life issues.

With an ageing population and demographic changes which mean that the number of people dying each year is set to increase, there's never been a more important time to focus on how we deal with dying, death and bereavement. Dying matters, and although not always easy employers stand to benefit by talking more openly about it and the support that could be offered to people who have been bereaved.

Read other blogs in our bereavement series

Lord Knight of Weymouth: Lucy Herd's campaign to change how employers manage bereavement

Steve Williams: Managing bereavement in the workplace

Audrey Williams: How to support bereaved employees - working beyond the law

Bereavement information from Acas

Acas guidance on managing bereavement

pdf icon Managing bereavement in the workplace - a good practice guide [184kb]

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