Bereavement leave: dealing with grief in the workplace
Is bereavement leave a high enough priority in organisations?
The day her boss communicated the results of her performance appraisal for 2013, Julie, who had lost her husband one year earlier, arrived at our session clearly upset and sad. She had held in tears when she had been told that her performance had not been the same level as in previous years. “She fell short in some areas” her boss commented.
Following the death of her husband Julie struggled with her job. She was slower than normal, she found she couldn’t trust her memory and her ability to focus was reduced. Yet she managed to successfully lead her team and achieve all her annual goals. She was saddened by the lack of acknowledgement of her return to work the day after her husband’s funeral. She had taken no bereavement leave and had accomplished the expected results, despite the devastating grief she was experiencing.
My personal experience was different. Following the death of my husband, I was only entitled to three days off, for “serious family problems.” However, my boss gave me the time and space for grieving without pressure. At the time, people said this was easier because I was a civil servant. But that wasn’t the case! My boss was highly demanding. Yet he had human understanding and compassion for my loss and found a way to overcome a situation where paid bereavement leave or any kind bereavement policy did not exist.
[Tweet ” Sadly, in most cases, employee grief is undermined and ignored in the workplace.”]
What do employers do when it comes to bereavement care for their employees, apart from a bouquet of flowers and a condolence card on the desk when they return after three days off?
I agree that grief can impact productivity. However, I cannot agree that “business is business” and time for bereaved employees to recover and any support to return to previous competency levels is regarded as a luxury.
[Tweet “So why is bereavement such a luxury? “]
Sick leave, maternity and parental leave can also affect any business. The difference lies in the fact that pregnancy and illnesses are accepted as necessary and inevitable. For some reason grief is not given parity in employment contracts with health, maternity and parental leave and recognized as a state that justifies the introduction of “bereavement leave”. This type of leave would allow employees time and understanding to process their loss and help them return to work when they have adjusted.
Some bereaved people want to return to work shortly after their loss. Yet the person is still grieving. Perhaps they would prefer to be assigned tasks with reduced responsibility that do not require high levels of concentration and with possibly less strict deadlines. With just a few adjustments the person can return to work and cope well.
But…..are workplaces willing to consider a temporary reorganisation of tasks?
Companies can be very sensitive towards the well-being of their employees, investing in massage sessions, stress management trainings and other services. Yet why are devastating experiences such as the death of a loved one or a divorce, so easily ignored?
[Tweet “Is it related to the discomfort that surrounds death and loss? “]
Whatever the reason, it’s simply not enough that the only recognition for their traumatic loss is a bouquet of flowers, a few days off and a card signed by the department.
What companies should consider is the introduction of meaningful bereavement leave and polices, combined with professional support. This should be not just for the bereaved employee, but for other staff members who may feel uncomfortable in dealing with colleagues in such difficult circumstances.
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