Bereaved people are ‘failed’ by employers, says charity

Eight in 10 people support paid compassionate leave for the bereaved. (pic: istockphoto.com/kzenon)

Eight out of 10 people would support paid bereavement leave. (pic: istockphoto.com/kzenon)

Employers need to put more compassion into the term ‘compassionate leave’ and give more support to their workers who are going through a bereavement, according to the Dying Matters Coalition, an alliance of 16,000 charities, hospices and care homes.

Its report Life after death: Six steps to improve support in bereavement – produced in conjunction with the National Bereavement Alliance the National Council for Palliative Care – concludes that bereaved people in Britain are being “failed by a lack of support in the workplace”.

Its survey of 4,000 workers found that half of people would leave their employer if they were not given sufficient support when a loved one died – and a third who had been bereaved in the last five years felt their employers had not treated them with compassion.

Eight out of 10 people polled would back a change in the law to offer paid bereavement leave to employees who had lost someone close to them – with 82% believing this leave would be beneficial to employers in the long term because the workers would feel supported through a difficult period. And nine out of 10 think employers should have a ‘compassionate employment policy’ offering support and flexible working to the bereaved.

Currently employees are entitled to ‘reasonable’ unpaid time off to deal with things like arranging the funeral – though this can often be at the line manager’s discretion. And, some weeks or months down the line, employers have been known to tell the staff member to ‘get over it’.

From the employers’ perspective, paid bereavement leave would add to their legislative burden. However, the report says that sick leave and the cost of hospital stays for the bereaved costs the UK economy £190m a year. Do the sums, says Eve Richardson, chief executive of the National Council for Palliative Care and the Dying Matters Coalition. “The costs of bereavement are too great to ignore, both for individuals and for society.” She is calling for employers to have a bereavement policy in place so employees are clear what they are entitled to.

Ms Richardson has previously said that “talking openly about dying helps bereaved people“. Some people may cope by throwing themselves into work as a way of getting ‘back to normal’. Others may take longer to come to terms with their loss. She is also calling for managers to be “more sensitive” in how they talk to bereaved members of their team. “It is also often the little things that matter and help make a difference, such as kind words from a manager or a card to say we are thinking of you,” she adds.

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