After the death of a loved one, returning to work may feel like the last thing many people want to do. But with more than half of bereaved employees feeling pressured to do just that, it seems UK employers and managers have some way to go in demonstrating compassion and understanding.
The same research by Co-op Funeral Care also found that two in five adults feel isolated when going back to their jobs and that a third of the people surveyed felt they needed a minimum of two weeks off before returning to work.
With no statutory requirement on employers to allow workers paid bereavement leave, firms typically only grant grieving staff a few days paid time off after the loss of a spouse, partner or family member.
The Employment Rights Act 1996 does stipulate that workers are entitled to unpaid “time off for dependants”. This is to deal with unforeseen matters such as funerals and emergencies but for the most part, employers are entitled to apply their discretion to staff requests.
This typically means that employees face the difficult situation of feeling forced to return to work when they don’t feel ready or going without pay as they recover from their loss. It also means many people have to see their GP to consider whether they are fit to attend work and consider taking sick leave.
It’s difficult to estimate how many people in the UK feel forced to take sick leave after a bereavement as most occurrences are classified by doctors as “stress”, but it’s clear that many feel as if they have little other option.
Most companies will have a policy for compassionate leave, but it’s not something most of us look into unless we need to. The worry of checking how much time you may be entitled to hardly helps when one is grieving.
And when you do go back to work, it’s important that you, your employer and your colleagues don’t necessarily see it as a return to “business as usual”. The grieving process takes time and how much varies from person to person.
Most people who return to employment after a bereavement need some form of support, even if it’s just a sympathetic ear and a compassionate discussion with a manager or fellow colleagues. It’s often the case, though, that many people are unsure just how empathetic their boss and fellow employees really are until they lose someone.