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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Charities can do better for their staff - by creating more bereavement-friendly workplaces


We try to make the world a better place, but can we do better by our own staff?

People usually want to do the right thing when someone they know is caring, dying or grieving. But often they can feel awkward offering help, or worry about making things worse.

People can have questions about serious illness or death. But often they don't know who to ask.

Making plans when you’re healthy means there is less to think about when you’re ill. But often people put off making plans until it is too late.

Last month, Demystifying Death Week took place across Scotland. The week is dedicated to sharing knowledge, skills and opportunities for ordinary people to plan and support each other through death, dying, loss and care. Organised by Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief, the week made a special effort to shine a light on grief in the workplace.

No-one can take away the pain of grief. But a supportive workplace can make things a little bit easier to deal with. On the other hand, insensitive treatment from an employer, line manager or colleague can make grieving even more distressing.

In recent months I’ve spent time asking bereaved people about their experiences of returning to work after the death of someone they cared about. People told me about things they’d found particularly helpful or particularly distressing. It struck me that most people are simply looking for a little bit of flexibility, sensitivity and human connection. And that this can go a long way to providing people with the support they need at these difficult times. 

Most of us want to be supportive when a colleague or employee is bereaved. But sometimes it is difficult to know the right thing to do, and people worry about saying the wrong thing. So last month we published a leaflet to help people think about the kinds of things they can do and say to show support.

You could try a simple acknowledgement, for example: “I just wanted to say I’m thinking of you, and I’m sorry that this has happened to you”, or “I heard about your sister. I’m thinking about you”.

See if you can open up space to talk, for instance: “any time if you want to talk, I’m happy to listen. We could go for a walk or a coffee if you like” or “it’s good to see you. How are you finding being back at work?”

Simple reassurance can be helpful - “take as long as you need” or “if you need to step out of the office, just do so".

An offer of specific, practical help can make a real difference – you could offer to help out with someone’s workload for example: "would it help if I took on this account for now?”

As well as the leaflet, we’ve brought together wealth of practical resources to help people who want to make their workplace a more supportive place for people who have been bereaved. The Scottish Bereavement-Friendly Workplaces Toolkit includes information for colleagues, managers and employers, as well as for people returning to work after a bereavement themselves. The toolkit includes links to training, resources, films, good practice guidance and bereavement support organisations.

Last month, the Scottish Bereavement Charter Group launched a new Bereavement Charter Mark for Employers in Scotland. The idea is that an employer can demonstrate that their organisation is proactively working to support bereaved employees by displaying the Bereavement Charter Mark on their website or within their buildings. Having the charter mark on your website demonstrates that you are working to make your community a place where people who are bereaved feel supported by the people around them.

The Charter Mark is a really positive and practical innovation. Taken together with the Workplaces Toolkit, it provides a great starting point for anyone who wants to make their workplace a less threatening place when someone has been bereaved.

As charity workers we spend most of our working lives focused on making the world a better place in some way. But are we, as employing organisations, doing our best for our own staff? Almost everyone will experience bereavement at some stage in their life, and everyone can help create a Scotland where people are supported when they're grieving.

Further information:

Bereavement Charter Mark:

Bereavement Friendly Workplaces Toolkit:

Rebecca Patterson is director of Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief.



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