The Blanket of Bereavement Policy Is Chilly

Bereavement, the period of time of mourning following the death of a beloved person. It can be one of the most devastating experiences for many of us. For employers, we are forced to tie metrics to this extremely personal experience with our bereavement policies. We literally quantify our employees’ grief.

This begs me to question why we thought this was a good idea in the first place?

We knew it was unethical and downright cruel to ask someone to clock-in after experiencing a death in the family. At its core, we thought we were simply showing our staff we care. We wanted them to grieve. We wanted them to heal. Therefore, we implemented, what is now considered standard, three days off. Not only did we put a maximum number of days employees are allowed to mourn, we also implemented stipulations around who it is okay to mourn for. Most policies today encompass immediate family members: Mom, Dad, kids, etc. The logic behind this criterion was to ensure no one took advantage of the policy right?

While there are plenty of articles out there detailing how companies need to give more than three days and broaden the criteria to encompass those outside of immediate family, what I advocate for is much different – eliminate this blanket policy we call bereavement all together.

Here are the top 3 issues with bereavement policies: 

#1 The experience of grief is unique to each individual

Some of us deal with grief by powering through. We stay busy. Out of sight, out of mind. I remember working for a VP of HR when she lost her mother. We had the standard 3 days and she did not take a single day. When I asked her why she said, “If I go home it will just make it worse. I want to be here where I am useful.” I told her I understood and left it alone. However, many of her peers were not as observant. She had a revolving door for days on end of people asking why she had not taken her three bereavement days. I ended up asking her to share that experience with me a few months after and oh boy… did she vent. She went on and on and on about how thankful she was that people cared but how their constant questioning about why she didn’t use the days made her grief so much worse. She was constantly forced to think about her loss. For this HR pro, the very policy she implemented to help others cope with grief, actually caused her more grief.

#2 Sometimes the passing of a pet is worse than the passing of human

It’s hard to imagine for some, but the death of a pet is a significant loss for many people. I lost my best buddy a couple years ago – a Jack Russell. To say I was a train wreck would be an understatement. I literally could not function, let alone put on a pretty face and be productive at work. On the contrary, had my stepmother passed away I could have walked into work in a day as nothing had happened. The criteria stipulating who we are allowed to take time off to grieve for does nothing to benefit our staff.

#3 Some need a couple hours, some need a couple months or even years

The problem with telling our staff they have 3 days to cry it out is that everyone handles grief in different ways and on different time tables. Many would assume that a parent losing their child needs much more than 3 days to “get over it”. Others, depending on who they lost, relationship with that person, so on and so forth, may only need a day. The 3 day rule, or any fixed measurement period for that matter, is not conducive to our overall goal which is for our employee to heal.

I challenge all HR Pros to eliminate their bereavement policies and implement a catch all bucket called time off. Determine what your company can budget for paid time away and let our staff use this as they see fit – sick days, I had to put Lassie down days, vacation in Europe or even I’m hung-over and can’t get off the couch days. Should your employee need more than the allotted paid time off, let them take it unpaid. The circumstances surrounding why they need to be out is irrelevant to the company and the budget. This does not mean we do not care about them, it means we are allowing them to tell us what they need.

Hire people you trust to do a good job, treat them like adults, take the time to align their values with the company, continually invest in their professional and personal development and let them determine their best way to grieve a loved ones’ passing.

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