How should HR help employees going through a break up?

Grief is not exclusive to bereavement. Some definitions describe grief as ‘the conflicting emotions brought by the change of a familiar pattern’.

That change of pattern can relate to many forms of loss beyond the death of a loved one, including a relationship break up.

All types of significant loss can evoke a grief response

The impact of various types of grief on the workforce is bigger than we might think.

Research suggests that unresolved grief costs organisations millions each year, through lost productivity, lower performance, absence and illness.

Grief is a recognised stressor that can seriously impact our mental and physical health, both in its own right and in addition to existing mental health and stress-related conditions.

So it is important to ensure that there are holistic support frameworks in place to help employees. 

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Alastair Campbell: the importance of mental health during the coronavirus pandemic

To complicate matters, while death is a socially accepted trigger for grief, often people don’t feel ‘justified’ to grieve after a relationship break up.

This then leads to further conflicting emotions of guilt and confusion.

In fact, most people do grieve when a relationship has broken down, because essentially our life as we have known it will change forever.

When you grieve for something or someone, you need two things: a grief recovery process to help you address your feelings, and someone who cares about you to help you through it.

In a world where mental health has never been a higher priority, here are five ways HR can ensure there is support in place for an employee who is experiencing the impact of a relationship break up.

These should ideally be provided internally (through managers and colleagues who have had some mental health awareness training) and externally (through access to EAP and other support services):

  1. Offer to listen without judgment.
  2. Resist the urge to fix their challenge. Instead, offer them the space to talk, and guide them gently to the support they might need.
  3. Ask them what support they have, and what they might need – don’t make assumptions.
  4. Educate yourself. Understanding grief and loss will place you in a better position to be able to help.
  5. Check in often. If they are displaying signs of not coping, then encourage them to seek professional support, via their GP or an EAP/helpline service.

You’ll notice that these tips are relevant to providing support with all forms of mental wellbeing. 

Acknowledging that grief (whatever the cause) forms part of our wider mental health and wellbeing is crucial to ensuring it is supported in the right way. 

Much of the support you have in place for wider mental health and wellbeing will be relevant, but employees might need guidance to make that connection for themselves.


Gemma Bullivant is an HR coach & consultant, who provides organisations with grief coaching and awareness training.


In support of Mental Health Awareness Week every day this week HR magazine will be publishing an article tackling the theme of loneliness in the workplace - find more tips on mental wellbeing here. See professional guidance from Mental Health UK here.