Jane Wood, CEO of Homes for Scotland and Scotland Advisor for Child Bereavement UK, writes about the importance of embedding bereavement awareness in business across the UK. 

Over the last decade, corporates have taken employee wellbeing more seriously than ever, engaging in wider societal conversations around mental health and recognising its ramifications in terms of staff productivity and retention. Yet the impact of bereavement continues to be underestimated in terms of its impact on employees and their ability to do their jobs – many suffer in silence as a result.  

The report by the UK Commission on Bereavement revealed that in the workplace there are marked differences in levels of bereavement support offered from employer to employer; a  third of adults who responded to the survey felt not at all or only a little bit supported by their employer, demonstrating how much work there is to be done. 

The impact of this on individuals, and on the businesses in which they work, is significant. Statistics show there is a 44% increase in sickness absence following bereavement and 56% of employees would consider leaving their job if their employer failed to provide proper support if someone close to them died. The benefits to both the employee and the employer of offering sensitive bereavement care are clear.

It is my belief that many businesses do want to support bereaved employees but simply don’t have the knowledge and tools to create a compassionate, bereavement-aware culture. Dying Matters Week revealed that fewer than one in five managers feels confident supporting someone they manage with bereavement.  

So how can they be helped to embed bereavement awareness at all levels of the business, from strategic decision-making through to casual water-cooler conversations?

Scotland has led the way by establishing a Bereavement Charter Mark for employers which demonstrates a business’s commitment to making their business a place where people who are bereaved feel supported by those around them.  

Many Scottish business leaders have signed up to the charter mark including  Donald Macaskill, Chief Executive of Scottish Care, who said “Becoming a bereavement-friendly workplace doesn’t have to be expensive – a lot of it is about flexibility, sensitivity and good communication.”

There is a compelling business case for embedding bereavement awareness in all businesses across the UK. Charities like Child Bereavement UK are well placed to provide information and support to make this a reality but change needs to come from the top, as has been seen in Scotland. I believe, with buy-in at the highest levels, that there is an opportunity to replicate the progress we’ve seen with mental health awareness, allowing us to put the needs of bereaved employees firmly on the agenda.