Bereavement Support: Counselling and Advice

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Health Assured team

13 January 2020

Grief can make an impact on the physical and mental wellbeing of an individual. According to ACAS, one in ten employees in the UK are likely to be affected by bereavement at any time.

Unfortunately, all individuals will experience bereavement at some time in their lives, but when this happens to someone in your workforce, how do you provide a framework of bereavement advice and support? First up, it’s a good idea to gain an understanding of what bereavement actually is.

What is bereavement?

When a loved one passes away, it’s natural to feel a period of intense grief and loss. During this period, emotions run high. Bereavement is the state a person is in when affected by this sense of grief and loss—while some people are able to continue through this without any issues, for many it’s overwhelming. A person in mourning may appear to be fine, but under the surface, they can be desperate for help.

It’s important for employers to offer practical support for bereavement—it can be a life-changing time, and just because somebody does not perhaps take time off work, that doesn’t mean they are not feeling the effects.

What are the symptoms of bereavement?

People can experience a wide range of emotions after a loss. According to the Kübler-Ross model—first outlined in Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ seminal 1969 text On Death and Dyingthere are five stages of grief:

There’s no right or wrong way to feel when grieving. It can be an unpredictable time, and people can feel:

  • Shock and numbness—this is usually the first reaction to loss, and people often talk about "being in a daze"
  • Overwhelming sadness, with lots of crying
  • Tiredness or exhaustion
  • Anger—towards the person you’ve lost or just a general angst
  • Guilt—for example, guilt about feeling angry, about something you said or did not say, or not being able to stop your loved one dying

What types of bereavement support are available?

Nationally, there are a few things that can help alleviate grief.

Psychological support—such as loss and bereavement counselling—is widely available. Trained counsellors offer professional bereavement counselling, in which you’re encouraged to open up about the intense feelings that you have. Grief is a difficult emotion to process, and often it can be difficult to open up to people who know you. In a clinical, confidential and safe space, you can go through the stages of grief, guided by a counsellor who will make sure your feelings are healthy and not harmful in the long-term.

Bereavement support groups are a great way to work through grief and talk about mental health issues with people who understands. Talking through your thoughts in a group can help you:

  • Focus on the areas of your life being heavily affected by bereavement
  • Understand that you’re not alone in your grief
  • Find ways to cope with and accept the loss you feel
  • Work on concentrating on positive memories
  • Grieve properly in a safe, non-judgmental space

Child bereavement support is an especially difficult and sensitive area—charities such as Winston’s Wish and Hope Again offer great, sensitive ways to help a child cope.

What is Bereavement Support Allowance?

If your husband, wife, or civil partner died on or after 6th April 2017, you may be able to get Bereavement Support Payment.

This is a benefit providing up to 18 months of financial support for the bereaved. If your partner died before that date, you may be eligible for Bereavement Allowance or Widowed Parent’s Allowance.

Bereavement Support Payment is a first, larger payment, then up to 18 months of smaller payments afterwards. There are two rates—which one you’ll receive is dependent on whether you also receive Child Benefit. If you do, you’ll receive an initial payment of £3,500, with monthly payments of £350 after that. If not, you’ll receive the lower rate of £2,500, with monthly payments of £100 afterwards.

You must claim within 3 months of your husband, wife or civil partner’s death to receive the full amount. And these payments won’t affect any benefits you’re entitled to in the first year.

How will bereavement support help in the workplace?

There are many benefits to supporting bereaved employees.

A well-planned and managed approach to bereavement at the workplace will not only help bereaved employees to cope better with their loss, but it will also help:

  • Support employees returning to work
  • Reduce absenteeism and sick leave
  • Avoid staff turnover
  • Reduce the impact on co-workers
  • Strengthen workplace culture and team morale

You should specify your company’s approach to bereavement leave in your employee handbook. Be flexible, though—not every situation is the same, and you should consider every request properly. Not every death is predictable, and someone might need to take bereavement leave on very short notice.

With such a sensitive subject, it’s wise to tread carefully, so you should consider the following:

  • Returning back to work—a sympathetic approach will help individuals make the transition back to work an easier one, so ensure good communication and use your discretion.
  • Phased returns—this may be helpful in some circumstances, and may even be recommended by their GP if they’ve been given a sick note.
  • Flexible working requests—expect these if an employee’s partner has died, leaving them with sole responsibility for raising their children, or if the employee has lost a sibling, leaving them with sole responsibility for caring for ill or ageing parents.

In situations where a death occurs in the workplace, support from trauma specialists may be required. These specialists can provide individual and group support on-site within 24-48 hours of the incident, and signpost staff to structured counselling services for ongoing support.

Bereavement in the workplace can be a challenge to manage and can cause many disruptions to your workforce. For example, you may find that their work performance has been negatively affected and that staff members may need to take compassionate leave from work, or that they may be unable to perform certain roles.

However, a compassionate and supportive approach from organisations can demonstrate that they are committed to their staff and values its workforce.

If you would like to find out more information on any of the topics mentioned in this article, please contact Health Assured on 0844 892 2493.

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