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When grieving workers return to work: Study shows employer support may be lacking

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Canterbury, England — Many people returning to work after the death of a loved one don’t receive adequate support from their employer, according to a study from Canterbury Christ Church University.

As part of the study, researchers reviewed literature published between 1995 and 2018 that explored workers’ experiences during bereavement periods. They focused mostly on employees’ perceptions on how they were treated during their absence and after returning to work.

“The review shows that while various employers tried to show sympathy and flexibility to bereaved employees, others were found to be less responsive, with certain areas of workplace support being reported as ‘insufficient,’” an April 12 press release from the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health states.

Specifically, some employers lacked long-term support practices, clarity about how much time off was allowed, clear human resources guidance and understanding of how to manage a bereaved worker’s performance.

Many workers are required to resume their duties within several days of experiencing a personal loss, and the ability to receive paid time off was one of their greatest concerns. Flexible work hours, acknowledgment of personal loss and “a listening ear” are among the other supportive responses employers can give, the researchers found.

“In workplaces, there may be a lack of guidance on how employers could support their employees during the grieving period and the return-to-work process,” Mary Ogungbeje, occupational health and safety research manager at IOSH, said in the release. “Managers can struggle to bring the subject up and may avoid the topic out of fear of saying something insensitive.”

 

She adds that it is important managers show bereaved employees empathy, and that both the employer and the worker can benefit from having a bereavement policy in place.

“Being able to use discretion, such as providing the option to work from home, flexible working hours, and reviewing workloads and deadlines, empowers managers to be able to best support the bereaved employee.”

The study was published online April 4 in the IOSH journal Policy and Practice in the Health and Safety.

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