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Should Your Company Offer Bereavement Leave?

Benefits packages often highlight health insurance, parental leave, and retirement options. These are important, but bereavement leave is an often overlooked benefit that can boost employee morale and, ultimately, improve your company’s productivity.

Bereavement leave gives your employees the opportunity to take time away from work to grieve the loss of a loved one without being forced to use vacation time—or, worse, come to work despite their grief.

Benefits of Bereavement Leave

The death of a parent, grandparent, spouse, friend, or child comes as a shock, even if the loved one was sick leading up to his or her passing. It is a difficult time for your employee and work may be the last thing on their mind. Without bereavement leave, some of those employees may have no choice but to come to work anyway, fighting through grief to do their jobs in a half-hearted manner.

Bereavement leave boosts morale, not only for the grieving employee but for co-workers as well. It’s not easy for anyone to figure out what to say or do when someone is grieving the loss of a loved one.

The implication here is obvious: when employee morale is better, your company does better. A grieving employee won’t be able to do their best work, and may even develop feelings of resentment for being at work instead of with family. This is a slippery slope that could lead to decreased productivity long after the employee’s grief has subsided. It may even result in the employee ultimately leaving the company.

Perhaps most importantly, bereavement leave is another way to show how much you value your employees and understand they have priorities outside the workplace. That sort of acknowledgment and appreciation is how an employee develops loyalty to a company. Respecting their work-life balance is an affordable way for you to help keep your employees happy.

Making Your Plan

In the 2016 Paid Leave in the Workplace survey, the Society for Human Resource Management found that an average of four days of bereavement leave was given to employees following the death of a spouse or child. No time off was generally given following the death of an employee’s friend or colleague.

This article starts with the story of a CEO who gave his employees three days off to deal with grief—until his own daughter died and he realized the process of recovering can take months. He now gives employees as much time as they need. The article goes on to say that grief can cost companies in the United States billions of dollars in lost productivity, while, “Paradoxically, offering employees more time to deal with their grief—through longer bereavement leave, reduced hours and flexible schedules—could wind up costing organizations less….”

A PEO like Harbor America can help you create a benefits package that includes bereavement leave. Our HR solutions may also help you put a plan in place to keep your organization running smoothly when an employee takes time off after a loved one’s death.

How to Help Your Grieving Employee

Mayo Clinic recognizes the complexity of normal grief, which can last a few months after the loss, as well as complicated grief, “…an ongoing, heightened state of mourning that keeps you from healing.” Symptoms are generally the same for both types of grief, which means most of your employees who deal with loss will experience some or all of the following for at least a few weeks or even months:

  • Intense pain and rumination
  • Inability to focus on anything but the loved one’s death
  • Numbness and detachment
  • Lack of trust in others
  • Difficulty accepting the death

Everyone grieves differently, and even after a few days or weeks away from work, your grieving employee may still struggle. Here are a few ways to help your employees—the grieving employee as well as co-workers—in this situation:

  • Ask what is needed: Some employees might want to get back to their full workload; others may prefer to ease in slowly.
  • Teach co-workers what to say: Many people are uncomfortable with other people’s grief because they don’t know what to say. In a quick meeting or email, ask your other employees not to say well-meaning but ultimately unhelpful phrases like, “He’s in a better place” or “Everything happens for a reason.” Instead, give specific offers: “If you’d like to talk about her, I’d be happy to listen over lunch today.” Watch and listen to the griever for cues on what he or she needs from you: space or connection, conversation or quiet.
  • Recognize the symptoms of grief: When you understand the employee is struggling, you’re better able to help her.

Get Help From Harbor America

If you have questions about bereavement leave benefits, contact us. The team at Harbor America is happy to help you understand the importance of this benefit and work with you to make it a part of your employee benefits package.