A guide to bereavement support in the workplace

4 min read

When an employee’s loved one passes away, the experience affects every aspect of their life—especially work, since that’s where full-time workers spend the majority of their time.

But with smart, thoughtful bereavement policies and practices, managers can offer meaningful support for employees in the aftermath of loss and create a productive environment for everyone.

This is crucial for an employee’s wellbeing, and for avoiding unnecessary suffering in a situation that’s already difficult.

Employee assistance programs (EAPs)

While employee assistance programs (EAPs) are not sufficient for bereavement care, they are useful in the first hours and days after a loss.

This is an initial stop for employees in crisis, when they first learn of their loved one’s death, or as a stopgap for support in the future.

However, an EAP may be a good thing to have in an emergency, but loss involves much more than the initial emergency. 

Health plan resources

To provide more options for bereaved employees, companies can look at their health plan resources. Professional grief counselors and therapists who specialize in grief are a crucial resource to employees, since emotional and cognitive challenges are widespread among people who have suffered a loss.

Empathy’s Cost of Dying Report showed that 83% experienced anxiety and 73% reported confusion in the aftermath of loss, and 30% experienced unusual anger or irritability for months.

In addition, sleep disorders are common among people in grief, with 76% saying they suffered a change in sleep patterns after loss—something their general practitioner or possibly a sleep expert can address. Making sure employees are aware of the health resources that are available to them is an excellent way to support them as they face the challenges of loss.

Third-party suppliers

Grief support isn’t the only thing bereaved employees need. They also are under considerable financial pressure and are often overwhelmed with time-consuming tasks outside the office.

Dedicating resources to third-party suppliers—either through additional funding, partner discounts, or simply curating and vetting approved suppliers—saves time and reduces employees’ stress.

With a more manageable to-do list, employees are able to focus on work in the weeks and months after a loved one dies.

In the initial days after a loss, consider offering services like: house cleaners, child care, pet care, or meal delivery.

Long-term, employees benefit from specific expertise to help them deal with the administrative, legal, and financial responsibilities they carry:

  • A service like Empathy, which offers personalized support, checklists, and tools for navigating grief and settling the estate

  • Estate and probate lawyers

  • CPAs for tax preparation

  • Real estate agents

  • Estate sale professionals

  • Appraisers

  • Property managers

  • Junk removal professionals

  • Home cleaning and landscaping

With a more manageable to-do list, they are able to focus on work in the weeks and months after a loved one dies.

Employee resource groups (ERGs)

Companies have used employee resource groups (ERGs) as a way to create a sense of belonging in the workplace, with time and space for people with similar backgrounds and interests to connect with each other.

While most ERGs have been created by on gender, ethnicity, and other criteria, grief-focused ERGs could provide just as much as a safe haven for employees in grief—especially since feeling isolated and misunderstood is so common.

Groups led by grief counselors offer an oasis of understanding during the workweek—one that employees may not even be getting from friends and family.

Education on grief and loss

Offering employer-sponsored bereavement information sessions is an excellent way to show all employees that their wellbeing is important to the company—long before they are dealing with loss.

In addition, employees want to support their bereaved colleagues, but many do not feel confident in how to do that. Some education about what to say and what not to say helps all team members create an environment where support is offered in a way that’s not distracting or exhausting for the employee who is dealing with loss.

For employees who are grieving a loved one, offering in-depth personalized support and information through a platform like Empathy’s is an additional way to be there with employees in their most difficult days.

Standing with them, rather than offer sympathy from the "other side" of grief is the key to taking meaningful steps toward true bereavement care.