Work giving you grief? Over half of UK adults feel pressured to return to work after losing a loved one

06 March 2018

funeral tea

  • 4 in 10¹ bereaved adults feel isolated when back at work
  • More than half (58%) of UK adults feel pressured to return to work after losing a loved one
  • Three in ten (31%) adults feel they have to justify grief for anyone other than their immediate family

New research released today by Co-op Funeralcare reveals just how challenging Brits find the return to work after a bereavement. More than half (58%) of adults felt pressured to return to work after a loss, with 30% feeling they needed more than two weeks off before they were truly ready to come back.

With almost half (46%) of grieving adults feeling others actively avoided them, it comes as no surprise that 4 in 10 felt isolated at work after suffering the loss of a loved one. As a nation known for its discomfort when talking about emotions, the findings uncover how Brits still struggle to find the right things to say to those grieving.

As well as tackling feelings of loneliness and isolation, Brits are also left worrying how their grief is being perceived by those around them. When dealing with the loss of a loved one who is not an immediate family member, over three in ten (31%) adults felt they had to justify their level of grief.

Co-op Funeralcare is actively involved in local communities, tackling grief and loneliness via initiatives such as bereavement groups and its long term work in partnership with the British Red Cross. With bereavement groups across the UK, those wanting a chat, some company or to be with likeminded people, anyone who has been impacted by bereavement is encouraged to come along.

David Collingwood, Director of Funerals for Co-op Funeralcare commented:

‘’At Co-op Funeralcare our priority is to do right by our clients. We understand that bereavement is completely unique to every person involved and everyone deals with it in different ways. There are many difficult hurdles to overcome after a bereavement, for many the funeral is just the first step. We don’t get over our loss, we learn to live with it. Learning to live with grief can involve tackling going back to work, a family birthday, Christmas and many other events that will remind us of the person we’ve lost.

‘’It’s a common misconception that bereaved people don’t want to talk, which is why I’m not surprised that 46% of people feel avoided. One of the most comforting thing for people can be getting back into a routine and the support of others is an essential part of this.’’

Julia Samuel, author of Grief Works, comments:

“Amongst the fascinating stats that the Co-op’s research has evidenced, I am not surprised to see that 4 in 10 people who are bereaved feel isolated when they are back at work. This isn’t necessarily because their colleagues are cold hearted and uncaring, it is because they are uninformed about how to respond to someone who is grieving, so tend to withdraw for fear of 'getting it wrong’.

‘’Bereaved employees who are responded to sensitively, by having a conversation with their boss about what their colleagues are told, what they are concerned about and what might help them, takes very little time and reaps huge rewards in both support and loyalty to the organisation. What works is acknowledging their loss and being given simple kindness, it isn’t complicated but it can take confidence to do."


¹Research conducted by Atomik on behalf of Co-op Funeralcare with 2,000 UK adults in February 2018.
Tips from David Collingwood on how to support a bereaved friend/family member are available upon request.

Media Contacts:

Sarah Pyatt: or 07850 002 312
Lauren Pogson: or 07702 505626

Tips from Julia Samuel on managing grief in the workplace:

Death is the last great taboo, and its consequence, grief, is profoundly misunderstood. It is too frightening, even alien, for many of us, to find the words to voice it. That silence leads to ignorance, which means we often don't know how to respond to grief in others, let alone ourselves. As this new research from Co-op Funeralcare shows, this is as true at work, as it is in homes throughout the country.

The workplace has a key part to play in the recovery process for anyone who is bereaved, it can create structure at a time of chaos, distraction from the pain of loss and a place where their sense of powerlessness is diminished by the very act of work. The environment employers create for the bereaved has the potential to enhance that, but the research highlights it is often failing.

If employers had a basic understanding of grief, it would enable them to respond to their employees confidently and effectively which would make an enormous difference, with bottom line benefits of less sickness and less staff turnover – for a small output.

The actions for an employer to consider are:
- Talk to your employee and acknowledge their loss sensitively and with compassion
- Ask your employee how much and what they want their colleagues to be told, or do they want to write an email directly themselves
- Discuss possible options for coming back to work, for example:
- Coming in to see the team to get that hurdle crossed
- Agree a few shorter days ahead of coming back full time
- Negotiate until the employee can work full time
- Everyone is different, don’t assume you know what they need, ask
- When someone is bereaved their capacity to retain information and do tasks is diminished, so be supportive and make allowances
- The Line Manager should have regular updates to be both supportive and in touch with their bereaved employees issues
- Be sensitive to particular times of year, like holidays and anniversaries

About The Co-op:

The Co-op, one of the world’s largest consumer co-operatives, with interests across food, funerals, insurance, electrical and legal services, has a clear purpose of championing a better way of doing business for you and your communities. Owned by millions of UK consumers, The Co-op operates a total of 3,750 outlets, with more than 70,000 colleagues and an annual turnover of approximately £10 billion.

Home to the UK’s leading funeral provider, Co-op Funeralcare conducts almost 100,000 funerals annually across over 1,000 funeral homes. Combined with its leading legal services business, the Co-op is also a national provider of later life products and services ranging from funeral plans, through to wills and probate.