Co-op has today launched a new leading colleague compassionate leave policy ahead of Dying Matters Awareness Week, to better support its 57,000 colleagues when someone close to them dies or is seriously ill.

As part of Co-op’s commitment to create a truly inclusive workplace and deliver a fairer world for colleagues, the refreshed policy focuses on giving flexibility to when paid leave is taken, tailored to best provide support for individual circumstances, giving managers the discretion to make the right decisions for each situation.

The leading convenience retailer and UK’s largest funeral provider has doubled the number of days paid leave to support colleagues through bereavement, from 5 to 10, whilst also embedding a flexible approach with its managers which allows for further paid days leave to be taken based on individual circumstances.

The policy gives emphasis to the ‘closeness of the bond’ that has been lost, meaning the relationship to the person who has been bereaved doesn’t have to be an ‘immediate family’ member, it can be friend, colleague, cousin. With the policy being available to colleagues from ‘day one’ of employment.

Claire Costello, Chief People and Inclusion Officer at Co-op, said:

We know that modern life can be complicated, so there are no restrictions about the relationships or situations that we give compassionate leave for. We also know that the death of someone close, or finding out about a terminal diagnosis, can affect people in different ways, so our new compassionate leave policy provides the right support to everyone.

Claire Costello, Chief People and Inclusion Officer at Co-op

Using insights and feedback from colleagues who said its existing policy needed to help managers and colleagues have better conversations about bereavement and death in the workplace, and following the recommendation by the UK Commission on Bereavement of pay entitlement of two weeks’ to cover all close relationships, Co-op is also making new resources available, these include:

  • A support guide for managers about bereavement and loss
  • A pack for colleagues who are affected by grief
  • A number of short practical guides such as ‘Returning to work following a bereavement’, ‘Talking to someone who is bereaved’ and ‘Where to get more help’
  • Specific bereavement support relating to terminal illness, recognising the impact of preparatory or anticipatory grief for colleagues

Co-op has developed the resources in partnership with Cruse Bereavement Support, the UK’s largest bereavement charity, to support people to have better conversations so that no one has to deal with grief alone.

Insight from research commissioned by Co-op with YouGov has found that three fifths (62%) of employees think bereavement should be treated as workplace issue with support available for colleagues and over half (56%) of employees across workplaces in the UK say bereavement leave is an important issue.

The new policy is part of Co-op’s wider commitment to support bereaved colleagues. As the UK’s largest funeral provider, Co-op campaigned the Government to introduce the Children’s Funeral Fund in 2019, which helps bereaved parents pay for their child’s burial or cremation. In April 2020, Co-op also introduced four weeks’ fully paid leave to any colleague who loses a child under the age of 18. Extending its policy beyond Jack’s Law which led to the mandatory introduction of two week’s leave on statutory pay.

Rt Hon Carolyn Harris MP, who along with Co-op successfully campaigned for the introduction of a Children’s Funeral Fund in 2019, added:

As a society we need to get more comfortable talking about death, grief and bereavement and recognise that we all handle it differently and have different needs. Being able to talk openly about bereavement at work with our employer and colleagues is no different. I commend Co-op for leading the way in giving its employees support at a time when they most need it.

Rt Hon Carolyn Harris MP

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Joanne is the editor for Workplace Wellbeing Professional and has a keen interest in promoting the safety and wellbeing of the global workforce. After earning a bachelor's degree in English literature and media studies, she taught English in China and Vietnam for two years. Before joining Work Well Pro, Joanne worked as a marketing coordinator for luxury property, where her responsibilities included blog writing, photography, and video creation.