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When A Colleague Suffers A Bereavement

Joanna Clare

Employees are not automatically eligible for time off or to be paid for a bereavement unless a ‘dependant’ has passed away, yet most employers are sympathetic and compassionate when it involves such a sensitive subject. Rules around pay and leave can become slightly more intricate depending on the relationship of the person and whether, for example, maternity leave is involved but there is a legal framework that should be adhered to.

In a working environment it is difficult not to become somewhat attached to colleagues especially as we see them most days. Even colleagues that we do not know very well, there is usually an awareness of the camaraderie and an acute sense of belonging to the same company or business.

During the course of the days, weeks and years, we invariably enter into small talk about our lives and similarly over time we share news over coffee breaks about what we may have done at the weekend, where we are planning to spend our summer holidays and generally highs and lows of everyday life. Even the most reserved of colleagues can offer some input with polite conversation.

However, at some point in your working life you may be faced with a situation that can be uncomfortable with someone that we were once comfortable with as grief and bereavement are still such taboo subjects. An uneasy topic yet a necessary one.

When a colleague returns to work after suffering a bereavement, it can be difficult to know what to say for fear of upsetting them further and intruding into unknown territory and we may therefore instinctively avoid the subject. Saying something is so much better than saying nothing at all.

People feel many different emotions after having suffered a loss and it can feel extremely shocking and overwhelming for them with a rollercoaster of different feelings that can occur with no warning whatsoever. It can not only impact someone's mental health but physically as well, with the two often being interlinked.

Acknowledge the person that has passed away if you knew them but always recognise the person who suffered the bereavement. Let them grieve and process everything in their own unique way and never compare grief.

Offer condolences and ensure your colleague knows that they can reach out to you and feels comfortable in approaching you if they wish to do so to talk.

Be aware of body language and respond appropriately. Often just being a good listener who is non judgemental and maintains eye contact whilst paying full attention can help enormously.

When and if appropriate, small gestures like a nod or a smile can convey empathy without being overpowering or drawing attention to the situation.

If you are made aware that your colleague is definitely not being supported by anyone outside of work and you feel worried, ensure they know of the many bereavement support services that can be accessed not only by phone but also email, twenty four hours a day. It goes without saying that if you have major concerns about a colleagues wellbeing then you should report these, discreetly and confidentially, to your line manager or H.R. representative without hesitation.

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