Grief and Bereavement

Grief and bereavement can cause a variety of symptoms and these can also apply in situations of loss other than losing a loved one, such as losing a job or home. Grief and bereavement may present in a way which is similar to other health conditions, such as depression. Over a quarter of adults who experience grief wish that the people around them had talked to them more about what had happened in the period following their loss.

What are the signs and symptoms of grief and bereavement?

Some examples of signs of grief and bereavement in an individual may include:

  • Shock and numbness
  • Overwhelming sadness
  • Uncontrollable crying
  • Exhaustion
  • Anger
  • Guilt

How can grief and bereavement be managed?

Grief and bereavement can be difficult to address, particularly in the early stages. Early on in the grieving process, the person may be in denial about what or whom they have lost. This is completely normal.

Once a person has adjusted to, and accepted, their loss and the pain involved with it, they may wish to seek help to manage their grief. 

This may involve:

  • Talking about how they are feeling with a friend, family member, or trained bereavement counsellor
  • Improving sleeping habits if sleep has been affected – this can help a person deal with low mood
  • Using a mindfulness app or doing online meditation exercises
  • Setting small, achievable goals for returning to life as normal
  • Reminding oneself that grief happens to many others too
  • Staying away from unhealthy coping mechanisms such as alcohol and drugs, which can worsen mental health

If required, a GP may be able to refer someone to psychological therapy services, such as cognitive behavioural therapy.

There are a few ways to determine whether an employee with grief and bereavement might require reasonable adjustments:

The employee may or may not wish to disclose their grief and bereavement, as many people may feel the obligation to deal with this alone, or that they should be ‘less affected’ by their loss than they are. Regardless, questions regarding the nature of any additional needs and what extra support may be required can be broached sensitively if an employer finds out about an employee’s loss.

What reasonable adjustments are possible for employees with grief and bereavement?

Employers have a legal duty under the Employment Rights Act 1996 to allow their employees ‘reasonable’ time off work to deal with an ‘emergency’, such as a bereavement. There is no legal obligation to offer paid leave, but employers may decide to, and this is often called compassionate leave.

Upon returning to work after time off, an employer should broach the subject of reasonable adjustments sensitively if they suspect that their employee’s bereavement has, or will have, a long-term adverse effect on their health, especially mental health. Reasonable adjustments (in accordance with the Equality Act 2010) can then be made, according to the individual employee’s needs, including, in the case of grief, particularly grief that last longer or is likely to last longer than 12 months:

  • Extra time to complete tasks to accommodate difficulties the person may have juggling work during a period of low mood, relating to their grief.
  • A structured working day to allow the employee to concentrate more easily and become less distracted by their bereavement.
  • Providing regular, sensitive feedback and reassurance, so that an employee with grief and bereavement who may come across particularly vulnerable to criticism, or stressed in a work environment, can stay abreast of what they are doing well, or what they could improve on.
  • Time off to attend appointments if the grieving employee is attending counselling or other forms of therapy.
  • Flexibility regarding working from home if the employee would find it easier to work without the added commute, dress code, etc.

Grief and bereavement Signposting – charity providing support for people of all ages who are experiencing bereavement, online, on the phone and in person. Training for employers on how to deal with bereavement at work is also available (0808 808 1677).

The Good Grief Trust – organisation signposting grief and bereavement resources for people of all ages, run by people with personal experience of bereavement who can offered practical and emotional support. They have links to different types of helpline depending on the nature of the bereavement.

Mind – mental health charity with resources and information on bereavement to help people manage their grief and bereavement and the effect it has on their wellbeing (0300 123 3393).

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