New guidance on managing bereavement at work published

17 September 2014
New guidance on managing bereavement at work which Dying Matters helped shape is being published by ACAS today.

'Managing bereavement in the workplace - a good practice guide' is being launched by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) at the House of Lords. 

It is estimated one in ten people is directly affected by bereavement, and research by Dying Matters has found a third of employees who had suffered bereavement in the past five years felt they had not been treated with compassion by their employer. Nearly nine out ten people believed all employers should have a compassionate employment policy that included paid bereavement leave.

Cruse Bereavement Care, bereavement leave campaigner Lucy Herd and many other organisations have also been involved in creating the guidance.

ACAS Chair Sir Brendan Barber said: "Grief from the death of a loved one can be an extremely sad and emotional experience for anyone. It can affect people in different ways in the workplace and managers should have the skills needed to handle it.

“Our guide aims to help employers manage this difficult situation with their employee in the immediate aftermath of bereavement as well as longer term. It includes advice for managers on how to get the balance right in order to be supportive, compassionate, flexible and practical towards employees who are dealing with bereavement.” 

Claire Henry, Chief Executive of the National Council for Palliative Care, which also leads the Dying Matters Coalition, commented: "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 we are delighted to welcome this important new ACAS guidance which we fed into, and believe it should become required reading for all employers, supported by training for all line managers in talking about sensitive issues such as bereavement. Whether it’s through providing time off or flexible working for employees who have been bereaved or sensitive conversations and offers of support, employers can make a massive difference. With the number of people dying each year set to increase there’s never been a more important time to get bereavement support right, both in the workplace and throughout society.”

The guide for employers includes advice such as:

  • Grief does not have predicted stages and phases. Everyone reacts differently to bereavement and this should be understood and respected by both employers and colleagues.
  • Employers can prepare for managing bereavement in the workplace by having a clear policy on it and training managers, HR teams and selected staff to have compassionate and effective conversations with bereaved colleagues. It is good practice to involve trade unions or staff representatives in developing a bereavement policy.
  • A calm, empathetic approach in all communications from managers will ensure employees feel supported and minimise their anxiety about returning to work.
  • Some employees may feel able to return to work very swiftly, while others need more time. The relationship with the person who died and the circumstances of the death will have an impact on the employee, particularly if the death was sudden or traumatic.
  • It is often difficult for bereaved employees to judge how they will feel in the workplace and a swift return to work does not necessarily mean an employee will not need support.
  • There are likely to be ups and downs as a person suffering from grief adjusts to life without the person they lost. The full emotional impact of the bereavement may not be felt for some time after a death.
  • Employers need to be mindful of the family unit of the bereaved and appreciate that, in many cases, a flexible approach such as offering part-time hours or flexible working is more likely to support and retain the employee and minimise sick days as they negotiate new or increased caring responsibilities. For more information on flexible working see:

ACAS’ full guidance on 'Managing bereavement in the workplace' is available at:


Dying Matters report on bereavement in the workplace: Life After Death

Anyone affected by bereavement who needs to speak to someone can call Cruse on 0844 477 9400.

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