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Bereavement leave, what’s the best policy?

Article by: Debbie Kerslake | Published: 11 October 2017
bereavement

New research has revealed that, despite the devastating impact of bereavement, one in four Britons did not take any time off work following the death of a loved one. A further one in 10 took just a single day away from the workplace to grieve. From Debbie Kerslake, Chief Executive – Cruse Bereavement Care.

This is according to new findings released today by family-run funeral service provider CPJ Field, which has shed light on the UK’s inadequate workplace bereavement leave provisions. The survey of 2000 UK employees who have all experienced the death of a loved one found that Brits are overwhelmingly in support of taking time off to properly grieve.

A resounding 98 percent of respondents agreed that some form of time off was necessary. More than a fifth of people (22 percent) felt it was reasonable to have three to five days leave following the death of a parent, sibling or grandparent. A quarter (26 percent) felt that three weeks or more was appropriate following the death of a partner. Following the death of a child, a third (34 percent) of respondents also felt that three weeks of leave or more was necessary.

The research also found that when UK employees did return to work, two fifths (40 percent) felt pressured to conceal their grief. This was particularly evident amongst male respondents, with over half (56 percent) feeling they had to hide their grief at work compared to 46 percent of women. Nearly half of respondents admitted they felt pressure to show a stiff upper lip or brave face following their loved one’s death.

Debbie Kerslake, chief executive of Cruse Bereavement Care, the leading national charity for bereaved people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, commented on the findings: “There is a huge lack of understanding in the UK around bereavement and its emotional and practical impact. You simply cannot go back to work immediately after a significant loss and act as if nothing has changed.

“From speaking to bereaved families, we know a lot of people simply don’t have the option to take time off work after a loved one’s death. There is currently no statutory requirement for employers to offer time off for bereavement. Doctors routinely have to sign people off work for depression or stress, because grief and bereavement aren’t recognised options.

A law is currently being considered which will provide paid statutory leave for an employed parent whose child has died – a move we welcome, but hope will be extended to others who have been bereaved.” Jeremy Field, managing director of CPJ Field said: ‘Looking at these figures, it’s clear there is a gap between how much compassionate leave UK workers think they need, and how much they are actually able to take. It was encouraging in the recent General Election to see bereavement leave policies in the manifestos of the main political parties, but the research suggests that more needs to be done to ensure we take the proper time out to grieve after the death of someone close to us.”

Ann Newsham, HR consultant, commented: “Many companies choose to have a bereavement leave policy in place, but it’s important to treat this as a guide, rather than a strict set of rules. Every employee’s experience of grief and loss is unique, and companies need to approach it on a case-by-case basis.

It’s also important for employers to take time to really understand their employee’s needs – speak to them, make sure they feel supported and looked after. It’s also worth considering other supportive practices that could help them – flexible working or remote working policies, and the provision of counselling services can make a huge difference.”

www.cruse.org.uk.