Dealing with death in the workplace

Employers shouldn't underestimate the impact bereavement has on productivity

Leave your personal woes at home, and avoid bringing them to office, is the standard expectation in the workplace. 

But the reality is, mourning the loss of a loved one can have a profound impact on employees’ mental health and not letting these issues interfere with work productivity is a tough balancing act

On this World Mental Health Day (10 October), employee wellbeing is likely at the fore of all HR directors’ minds.

Back to basics... bereavement support

While mortality is an inevitable part of life, just over a third of people (36%) choose to talk to their colleagues about death and less than one in three people (29%) feel confident talking to their employer about mental health struggles, according to MetLife’s recent Last Word Report


How bereavement affects employee productivity

Businesses should not underestimate the impact bereavement has on employees’ productivity. Bereaved workers are not only dealing with the emotional trauma that comes with losing a loved one, but they also often continue working while simultaneously planning a funeral.

MetLife’s research highlights that almost a quarter of bereaved next of kin state that funeral planning took a huge amount of time. A further 7% said it affected their ability to focus on their job. 

I strongly feel that there needs to be a greater onus on business leaders to help employees through bereavement. We should be doing what we can to help mitigate the impact felt by those going through such a difficult time.

HR responsibilities during a mourning period

Furthermore, helping employees through bereavement can send a really powerful message that you care about your people and promote a company culture that embodies compassion.

So how can HR departments help employees through bereavement?


Will writing

The importance of will writing cannot be understated. Cancer charity MacMillan Support shows that two in three UK residents do not have a will, a further 42% of those aged over 55 also do not have will. 

One of the many challenges facing the bereaved is paperwork and understanding what sort of legacy the deceased has left. Helping your employees write a will, can remove a major burden for bereaved next of kin, and can normalise conversations on mortality which tends to be a controversial topic. 

Expand your benefits 

MetLife’s report finds that 15% said having more time off to grieve would have made the process easier and more than one in 10 wanted more support from their employer.

HR departments can deploy specialist staff better equipped to help employees with such as a 'bereavement coach' which offer support for bereavement related mental health struggles. 

Offering support such as 'funeral concierge' rolled into a life insurance product is another way to achieve this. Life insurance products typically offer limited assistance beyond offering a payout.

Adding a service such as a funeral concierge can alleviate many admin challenges related to bereavement and can also help employees plan funerals.

Funeral planning: The final workplace taboo

Offering flexible working options such as working from home for a certain period after a bereavement period ends, can also help employees transition back into work in a manner that allows them to work without having to take unpaid time off. 

Having a supportive approach to bereavement demonstrates that an employer values its employees, helps build commitment and is likely to reduce sickness absence and help retain employees. The ability for HR departments to showcase empathy, especially during a period of bereavement, assists with harnessing a supportive culture that will be hugely valued by your employees.


Mark Wood is chairman of Everest UK