MetLife ‘The Last Word’ Report 2023: Exposing the funeral planning taboo in the workplace

MetLife’s 'The Last Word: Tackling the death and funeral planning taboo' report 2023 concludes with an exploration into support offered to recently bereaved employees and further actions that can be taken to reduce the pain and confusion of loss.

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Tabitha Lambie | Editor, Protection Reporter
5th January 2024
"Alleviating some of that emotional toll when dealing with loss by helping with the practical, allows people more time to grieve."
- Adrian Matthews, Head of Employee Benefits at MetLife UK & Europe

In the first chapter, MetLife found that people seem to “worry more about protecting belongings, and insuring against events that might never happen – like having phones stolen or homes burgled.” Yet, rarely does anyone take the time to think about the biggest certainty – what we leave behind.

READ MORE: MetLife ‘The Last Word’ Report 2023: Discussing taboo, funerals, and silent planning

The next chapter explored how families are financially exposed through a lack of planning, which areas of support would have the biggest impact, and the solutions employers should provide employees, beyond time off to grieve and make arrangements.

READ MORE: MetLife ‘The Last Word’ Report 2023: Shining a light on financial risk, wills, and bereavement

In the final chapter, MetLife reveals only 8% of employees were directed to additional professional support through their Employee Assistance Scheme (EAP) while mourning the loss of a loved one.

Of those surveyed (2,000), 18% of recently bereaved employees said help with understanding the next steps involved in planning a funeral would make their loss easier to cope with. This included finding the right undertaker, knowing how to arrange a funeral, and understanding how to register a death. This was followed by free 24/7 support available 365 days a year (17%) to help answer any queries, support from both their own and their loved one’s employers (14%) and knowing how the funeral was going to be paid for (14%).

When asked how supportive their employer had been while they’d been grieving, MetLife found that 23% of employees hadn’t felt comfortable talking to their line manager about their loss, with 8% revealing that they’d actively withheld information about their recent bereavement. The insurer believes this is perhaps indicative of workplace cultures that are closed to historically taboo subjects. Especially since only 17% of line managers expressed confidence in offering support to an employee that had informed them of personal bereavement.

When asked for support, 15% of employers told employees to ‘take as much time off as they need’, followed by two weeks (11%), and three days (3%). However, only 18% of employees were offered paid leave to grieve, despite 32% expressing that they would’ve valued this support. 10% of employees said they were given an unspecified period of unpaid leave, but without an income their return to work was likely shortened.

When discussing Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), only 8% of employees said they’d been directed to additional professional support through their company’s scheme, while 16% said they weren’t offered any form of support. MetLife has said there is clearly opportunity for employers to start demonstrating the compassionate nature of their company culture.

While 54% of employees were aware of the support available to help them cope with the loss of a loved one, only 17% were fully aware, 21% were partially aware, 7% were aware but didn’t know how to access the support available, and 8% didn’t know what was included. Ultimately, 31% of employees were unaware of their employer’s bereavement support, while 15% stated there was, without a doubt, no support available.

As well as bereavement support for employees, MetLife explored awareness of support for loved one’s families. 47% of employees said they were aware of available support, but only 7% understood what was involved or how to access it (9%).

Overall, MetLife concluded that there is “undoubtedly a need for (but lack of) ‘someone to turn to for practical support’ […] Someone who can authoritatively provide them with empathetic guidance on the complexities of arranging a funeral, fulfilling legal obligations, wills, and other specific tasks.” Adrian Matthews, Head of Employee Benefits at MetLife UK & Europe, agreed that “grief is an intensely personal experience and will affect each person differently […] While there is little that can be done to reduce the grief of loss itself, our research shows there are a number of tangible ways employers can help lessen the stress and pain.”

“When the time comes, employers will generate staff loyalty by supporting them through this difficult time. Taking action to equip people with additional emotional and practical resources – whether that’s in or out the workplace is vitally important,” he explained.

Mark Wood, Chairman of Everest UK, said these findings illustrate “the immense challenges that face both grieving individuals in the workplace and their employers struggling to offer them the right support.” He felt that the first step should be to allow for, and encourage, safe conversations with employees about their needs.

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