HR teams ‘struggling to deal with workplace bereavement’

Friday, 13 January 2017

Lack of policies and procedures highlighted as a concern; employees with terminal illnesses also lack support.

Almost half of HR departments struggle to manage the impact of bereavement in the workplace, new research has revealed.

According to the study by MetLife Employee Benefits, 13 per cent of HR professionals said they had been required to manage the aftermath of an employee’s death over the past two years, while 31 per cent provided support for staff coping with family bereavement.

Yet 45 per cent admitted they did not have agreed policies in place to deal with workplace bereavement, and almost two-thirds (64 per cent) said they did not have procedures for supporting employees living with a terminal illness.

Katrina Pritchard, senior lecturer in organisation studies in the Department for People and Organisations at the Open University, told People Management: “HR departments have traditionally focused on childcare rather than caring across the lifetime. It’s been a neglected area but, now that the ageing population is drawing attention to caring responsibilities and how they have an impact in the workplace, it’s starting to come to light.

“There are organisations that have campaigned for this sort of attention for a long time, but maybe now more more thought is being given to ageing and terminal illness and that will lead HR leaders to look at it more seriously.”

Despite the lack of procedures in place to manage the impact of workplace bereavement, the research also found that the majority of HR departments recognised the importance of providing support, with 92 per cent already offering flexible working to staff suffering a bereavement, 24 per cent providing access to bereavement helplines and 13 per cent offering face-to-face counselling.

In addition, two out of five were currently considering bereavement training for line managers and a third were considering introducing specialist support services.

Tom Gaynor, employee benefits director at MetLife UK, said: “Bereavement is sadly something that will affect most employees and companies need to have agreed procedures in place to ensure staff and their families have support when they need it. Companies clearly want to be supportive and sympathetic, but it is surprising that so many do not have clear policies and procedures in place for bereavement in the workplace. HR departments recognise it is an issue but need support in addressing it.”

The issue of bereavement hit the headlines last year, after campaigners lobbied for parents who lost a child under the age of 18 to receive two weeks’ statutory leave. At present, there is no requirement for any employee to receive time off following a bereavement, just ‘reasonable’ absence to cover an emergency, which is normally taken to include a family death or serious illness. The bill has received two readings in parliament and is likely to become law in the near future.

Shared from CIPD