Bereavement is always a very difficult time and as a manager you have an important role in supporting members of your team when they suffer a loss.

This guidance aims to help managers to support their team members during this very difficult time by making them aware of the various support mechanisms and provisions that are available for them.

Difficulties losing someone during coronavirus

During this pandemic there are extra difficulties that an employee may experience that can affect the way they deal with the bereavement and the length of time it may take someone to engage with work again. For instance:

  • they may not have an opportunity to spend time with someone who is dying, or to say goodbye in person
  • they may not be able to attend the funeral, or the funeral may be significantly delayed
  • the illness may have progressed and become serious very quickly, which can lead to feelings of shock and difficulty in accepting the bereavement
  • the advice usually is for anyone dealing with bereavement to not isolate themselves but engage with friends and family for support. The self-isolation can cause grief to be felt more acutely and contribute to the sense of loneliness and low mood

It's important to remember that everyone is different, people deal with and react to bereavement in very different ways. When you become aware of the bereavement, take the time as quickly as possible in the circumstances to talk to them about the bereavement and ask what support they think they need or might find helpful.

If they get news of a bereavement while they're working they may or may not wish to finish work early, go home or just take time to be on their own. What’s important is that it's their choice.

Ask them what information, if any, that they are happy for you to share with the rest of the team. Bereavement is a personal time, so make sure you and the rest of your team respect the person’s privacy in order not to cause any further distress.

Taking time away

They're likely to need time away from the workplace in order to grieve, to undertake practical arrangements such as arranging the funeral or to attend a funeral or memorial. To support this they can request up to 10 working days (or the equivalent of 2 working weeks for part-time staff) with paid compassionate leave, which can be extended in exceptional circumstances.

Speak to your manager or HR adviser to find out more about compassionate leave.

Compassionate leave can be requested following the bereavement of a relative, partner or close family friend. Consider these requests sympathetically. The amount of paid time off agreed will depend on the specific circumstances, taking account of the need to travel, for example  to attend a funeral or to be with family, or to make the funeral arrangements.

Employee wellbeing

You may like to direct the employee to the Employee Wellbeing team who offer a range of support, advice and guidance.

If you think your employee may benefit from talking therapies they can self-refer to Steps 2 Wellbeing.

Contact Employee Wellbeing by email: or by phone: 01305 225715.

Additionally, it's also advisable to:

  • encourage your employee to visit our wellbeing pages. These include useful tips for looking after their physical and mental health during isolation
  • encourage your employee to take some time away from work and seek support if necessary
  • access support from their trade union if they’re a member of one
  • visit Cruse for more advice and support for bereavement
  • ask your Corporate Director to write to your employee to give their condolences
  • inform those closest to the person first and tell them the news in a private environment. Allow your team time to support and talk to their colleague, as long as you have permission to share this information

Everyone deals with bereavement differently. While some of the effects of the grieving process can be unpleasant, they are all perfectly normal, such as:

  • sleep problems
  • sadness
  • anger
  • low mood

Not everyone wants help and support and that’s OK. Everyone has their own way of coping. But, it’s important to ask rather than assume they do or don’t want help.

How to support your employee return to work

The feelings of grief don’t disappear just because the employee returns to work. Extend a little extra kindness and consideration to that person as they move through the stages of grief.  It may be helpful to:

  • let them make mistakes; although they may appear fine, there may be times when their performance takes a dip or their energy is low. Give them extra forgiveness for mistakes. Your empathy and patience will go a long way during this tough time
  • initiate communication and provide an open door; make extra effort to invite them to talk if they want to. Even if they never take you up on the offer, they'll know their manager cares as much about them as their productivity
  • ask them what they need; don’t be afraid to ask how can I be of support at the moment? Offer suggestions like:
    • regular check-ins
    • flexibility with work hours (as appropriate)
    • temporarily lightening the workload.
  • remember that some people may want to experience grief privately and to carry on as normal at work, so it’s important to ask them what they want
  • remind them of the support available, Employee Wellbeing and encourage them to get the help they need

Don’t ignore or avoid them; sometimes it can be difficult to know how to approach an employee after they’ve returned to work. Approach the employee with kindness and compassion, ask if they need anything. Ignoring their loss and jumping right back into the swing of things may not be what they need at this time. Ask rather than assume.

Find more information about bereavement

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