UCL Human Resources


Bereavement and loss support toolkit

This toolkit has been designed to help managers and colleagues support their teams when a person dies. This person could be a colleague, an immediate family member or significant other.

Bereavement impacts emotional, physical, spiritual and psychological wellbeing. Everyone reacts differently following a bereavement and it is important that this is recognised, respected and understood by managers and colleagues. Grief can interfere with thought processes, concentration and sleep patterns with fatigue, anxiety and mood swings being common. It is also important to note that family member may not have been able to be with loved ones when they died, and that funeral arrangements may be highly restricted and not as the family may have wanted. This can be very distressing for the bereaved.

UCL’s Special Leave Policy has a specific section concerning Bereavement Leave. Please familiarise yourself with this policy before having a conversation with your team member. HR Business Partners can answer any questions you might have around policy or pay.

This toolkit contains information on

    Having a conversation around bereavement

    Talking about death and bereavement can be very difficult, emotional and challenging. People may get upset and need some time to process the information. This is completely normal.

    Its fine to get upset yourself so don’t feel embarrassed if this happens.

    Telling the team a colleague has passed away

    It is advisable to tell the immediate team first, please consider the most appropriate way of sharing such news with the immediate team. You can then send out a communication to the wider department/faculty as appropriate. A template is prepared below for you to amend as necessary to send to the wider team/department/faculty.


    Before telling the team think about what you will say and the key messages you would like to convey. It is advisable not to share how the person passed without consent from the family/next of kin. Write some notes beforehand and if it’s helpful talk it through with a senior colleague or your HR Business Partner. If you’re about to update people verbally make some bullet points to ensure that you remember to cover everything you would like to say.

    Once you have told the team, follow this up with how they can get support. As a manager or supervisor you will know your team members, if any have suffered a bereavement recently, have a mental health issue or live alone you may want to check-in with them or arrange for a colleague to do so.

    Additional Support for Managers

    Managers can seek guidance from their HR Business Partner who will be able to discuss with them any concerns or worries they may have, and make them aware of information and resources available to them.

    Spectrum.Life, our Employee Assistance Programme provider, also offers a Managers Support Service in order that managers and leaders may discuss an upcoming difficult or upsetting conversation or situation with a counsellor should they so wish. 

    Pension scheme bereavement benefits

    Bereavement benefits would apply to employees who contribute to one of UCL’s pension schemes. The benefits include a tax-free lump sum, a spouse/partner pension and children’s pension (where applicable). Detailed information on pension scheme bereavement benefits can be found on the pension scheme websites:

    In the first instance, UCL Pension Services should be contacted to report a death in service. Pension Services will then ensure that the relevant sections of HR are informed and will write directly to the next of kin to arrange for the payment of pension benefits.

    Supporting a colleague or peer who has suffered a bereavement

    In the event that someone close to a team member passes away then do speak to them and offer condolences.

    • Ensure they know that work is not their priority at this time
    • Ask how they would like to stay in contact
    • Ask them what they would like their colleagues to be told and stick to the facts as the information is private
    • Ask if they would like to be contacted by colleagues
    • Signpost them to supports available and remind them of the importance of self-care
    • Keep the dialogue open and review the situation regularly

    Returning to work (referring to Workplace Health if required)

    When someone is ready to return to work after a bereavement, arrange a meeting and discuss with them what their return to work plan might look like. You should consider that an individual’s resilience and capacity to function at their normal level may be impacted by their bereavement and adjust their workload accordingly. If in doubt, ask them. When they do come back, check in regularly to see how they are getting on. Remember, grief is a process. Some days will be much more difficult for the bereaved than others.

    If you would like support with planning a return to work, for example, you are concerned about the physical or mental health of your employee, you should consider referring them to Workplace Health using the Management Referral process. This gives your employee a space to have a confidential conversation and assessment with an occupational health practitioner. Workplace Health are able to advise you on any adjustments that might be useful to support your team member, and can give an opinion on their fitness to work. You should consider this if you feel your team member if struggling, or has other health issue they are trying to manage in addition to their bereavement.

    Sources of support

    Employee Assistance Programme: Staff Support Service

    UCL has partnered with Spectrum.Life to provide confidential emotional support, counselling and information service to the UCL community.

    Support is also available for legal, financial, housing and family-related issues. Services are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and they can be contacted by phone, WhatsApp or Live Chat.

    External sources

    Many other external services are also available and some of these are outlined below:

    Cruse Bereavement Care 0808 808 1677
    Somewhere to turn when someone dies, Cruse offers support, information and advice.

    Samaritans 116 123

    NHS – Grief after Bereavement or Loss

    NHS Find local bereavement support services

    NHS Bereavement and Young People

    Mind – Bereavement – Provides information on bereavement, where to go for support, and suggestions for helping yourself and others through grief.

    Bereavement Advice Centre – Advice on practical issues when someone dies as well as coping with the grief.

    The WAY Foundation – WAY is a UK charity that offers a peer-to-peer support network for anyone who's lost a partner before their 51st birthday – married or not, with or without children, whatever their sexual orientation.