Employees feel under pressure to cover up their grief in the office, study finds

One in four (25 per cent) workers took no time off work following the death of a loved one, while a further one in 10 (11 per cent) took just one day, new research has found.

The survey of 2,000 UK employees who have experienced the death of a loved one,  compiled by family-run funeral service provider CPJ Field, also revealed that half (52 per cent) of employees who did take time off felt under pressure to conceal their grief when they returned to work.

Despite this, the research found that 98 per cent of employees believed some time off after a death is reasonable.

Around a fifth (22 per cent) of those asked thought it would be reasonable to take three to five days’ leave following the loss of a parent, sibling or grandparent. A quarter (26 per cent) felt three or more weeks would be appropriate following the death of a partner and a third (34 per cent) thought the same amount of time would be reasonable following the death of a child.

“Looking at these figures, it’s clear there is a gap between how much compassionate leave UK workers think they need, and how much they are actually able to take,” said Jeremy Field, managing director of CPJ Field. “It was encouraging in the recent general election to see bereavement leave policies in the manifestos of the main political parties, but the research suggests that more needs to be done to ensure we take the proper time out to grieve after the death of someone close to us.”

Debbie Kerslake, chief executive of Cruse Bereavement Care, added: “There is a huge lack of understanding in the UK around bereavement and its emotional and practical impact. You simply cannot go back to work immediately after a significant loss and act as if nothing has changed.”

The findings come less than three months after a private member’s bill was introduced into parliament to give employed parents a statutory right to paid time off to grieve in the event of the death of a child. Such a right does not expressly exist in law at the moment, although the Employment Rights Act entitles staff to a ‘reasonable’ amount of unpaid time off to handle an emergency involving a dependant.

Research published in January by MetLife Employee Benefits revealed that almost half (45 per cent) of HR departments did not have any formal policies in place to cover staff bereavement, although 92 per cent regularly provided flexible-working options for employees dealing with a death, 24 per cent offered access to bereavement helplines and 13 per cent supplied access to face-to-face counselling.

Meanwhile, in a separate study by Canada Life, which was published yesterday, a quarter (23 per cent) of workers said they would have to be hospitalised before they could ask their boss for a sick day. Nine in 10 (89 per cent) admitted they had gone to work unwell.

When asked what was preventing them from taking time off, more than two-thirds (69 per cent) said they didn’t think their illness was serious enough to warrant taking sick leave, a third (34 per cent) felt their workload was too big for them to take time off to recover and a fifth (22 per cent) said they were worried about the financial implications of having a day off.

Almost half (48 per cent) added that they had become sick themselves on more than one occasion because a colleague had come into work unwell rather than staying at home.

“We need to be clearer with employees – they should only come into work when fully fit and able to do so, be it physically or mentally,” said Paul Avis, marketing director at Canada Life Group Insurance.


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