How employers and work colleagues can help

Returning to work can be very stressful for a bereaved person. They should return only when they feel able and they may prefer to work flexitime or part-time for a while. Employers and colleagues should be aware of and sympathetic towards the person’s need for time off, which may be to attend an inquest or receive counselling.

Bereaved people may find it difficult to concentrate and harder to assess complex situations and react as quickly as they did, which can lead to a lack of confidence. By showing understanding and acknowledging their loss, you can contribute greatly to them regaining confidence in their own ability to cope. 

Some bereaved people may have jobs where they work with people who are experiencing problems and trauma (for example, healthcare staff, social and care workers, police) and this can be very difficult after a bereavement. They may feel vulnerable and that the problems of others weigh very heavily on them. This can emphasise their grief and affect their ability to be detached in their work. Be understanding and sensitive to these feelings. 

Sometimes a bereaved person finds it easier to talk to those who are more distant from the death and may talk to you or other colleagues about it. You might find this embarrassing or awkward, but you can help simply by being a good listener, by not giving advice and by mentioning the death rather than avoiding it. 

If someone who works in a small, close-knit working environment takes their own life, the whole group is likely to be affected. Colleagues may have to take over the workload of the person who has died, at a time when they might be in distress and not functioning as they normally would. It is important to be sensitive to each other’s needs, accepting that everyone will react in different ways. 

Sometimes, professional counselling may be offered on a group or individual basis, but with no pressure to attend. Some professions have dedicated confidential helplines that can offer support to people in this situation. Occupational Health and Human Resources departments may also be able to provide access to support. 

The section on ‘How friends can help’ may also be useful for colleagues.