Bereavement Leave: How Coaching Can Help

CoachHub · 25 August 2022 · 5 min read

Bereavement touches the workplace in various ways. Team members want to be supportive but don’t know how to react. Managers have the best intentions but may become overbearing. The grieving employee is dealing with a devastating loss and their performance will inevitably suffer. The HR department has a unique opportunity to create a communicative, supportive and stable environment for all parties involved. Coaching greatly helps the bereaved to adjust to life without a loved one and acts as a significant source of support during their journey to recovery. 

What is bereavement?

Bereavement can be defined as “a period of mourning after a loss, especially after the death of a loved one”.The period of bereavement is one of great grief and sadness while one must come to terms with life without a loved one. The duration of such a time is unique to each individual and losses can take years to heal from.


What is bereavement leave?

Bereavement leave refers to the time off taken by an employee after the death of a loved one. This time is taken to mourn their loss with family and friends, arrange and attend the funeral, and take care of any other matters surrounding their loss.

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How can coaching help?

Productivity and morale are often significantly impacted when a team member is grieving. The HR department can play an important role in helping the team, management and the bereaved come together during this highly challenging time. Through coaching, a space for the employee to focus on transformation, acceptance and healing is created. Having an environment that is supportive yet separate from their loss will be instrumental in their recovery. The following list suggests how coaching can help minimize performance loss and aid in the healing process of the grieving employee.

A positive escape

Coaching during bereavement can create a positive space of hope and encouragement for your employee. The work environment can represent an escape from the responsibilities and burden of their loss. Their time at work may be the one area of their life where they still feel a sense of normality and control. Through compassionate and solution-focused coaching, the workplace can become a much-needed refuge for your employee during a very difficult time.

A brighter future

For grieving employees, coming to a place of acceptance of a future without their loved one can be immensely challenging. Coaching empowers the employee to work on their perspective of their future. With realistic objectives and future-focused goals, the employee has something to work towards that is not related to their loss. Coaching creates the opportunity for them to strive for something new and begin to improve their perspective of the future.

Stability and security

A grieving employee will feel deeply unsettled in their home life. Being able to provide the bereaved with a sense of stability during this time is vital to their recovery and performance. Coaching offers a foundation of support that will provide a valuable sense of professional security. It is likely they will feel unable to perform to their full potential and coaching can calm any fears or feelings of unworthiness.

The path to recovery

Coaching is a consistent and compassionate source of support. While it is less practical or emotional, it greatly contributes to the healing process. Trust that the employee’s family and friends will be there to cook dinners, cut the grass and remember the birthdays and anniversaries. Coaching from an HR department is the helping hand they need in their professional life. Grief comes in waves and often the shock of the loss hits weeks or months later. At this time, their family and friends may be calling less and everyday tasks can become impossible. A consistent coaching program acts as a constant source of support and can be a vital part of their recovery.

Coaching a bereaved employee

Ask them what they need

Empower your employee to express their needs. Let them tell you how they can be helped. Some employees prefer space when grieving and some will prefer to feel more support. Ask them how they want their team members to react and create a common understanding for communicating while remaining respectful of the employee’s privacy. Do they want more space? Do they want condolences to be kept in private? Do they want no condolences at all? HR departments can act as a neutral messenger to create the most positive and comfortable environment for everyone.

Give them a private space to grieve

If possible, find a quiet space in the office and offer it to your employee as a place to go to escape. It is likely they will become overwhelmed with emotions during their first few days back at work and will need a space to be alone. Provide tissues, a pillow and any other items that may help to comfort them.


Nothing you can say can take away the pain they are feeling. Do not look for words. Worry less about what you are saying. They only need to know that you are there to listen when they are ready to speak. Resist the urge to speak to fill the silence, avoid giving advice and focus on listening to them.

Provide additional resources

Any additional resources the company can offer during this time will be a huge statement of support to the bereaved. For instance, providing a list of grief counselors, encouraging them to join ERGs that can provide support and community, arranging changes to a bereaved employee’s workload or creating a policy that allows other employees to donate paid time off.

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Bottom Line

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to grief and loss. It is essential to the recovery and performance of a bereaved employee that they feel a strong channel of communication and support from their employeer. A flexible and open coaching programme offers them the help they need in their professional life. Returning to work after the loss of a loved one can be daunting and overwhelming, but with coaching the workplace can become a place of refuge and inspiration during very challenging times.

Cathy Stapleton
Cathy is an Irish writer based in Berlin, Germany who is passionate about using words to inspire growth. As a certified mindfulness facilitator and performance coach, Cathy aims to create work that helps people connect with themselves and heighten their awareness. When she is not writing she is usually running in nature, meditating or contemplating an existential crisis.

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