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Is your bereavement policy realistic?


When an employee experiences a loss of an immediate family member – spouse, parent, or child (as defined by most HR Bereavement Policies) how much time is given for them to handle funeral arrangements, personal affairs, changes in the immediate well-being of their family, etc…?

On average – 3 days; anything more than 3 days is unpaid. Unfortunately, then they are forced to make a difficult decision in the midst of a difficult time: take care of family needs or return to work to maintain financial consistency?

For anyone who has experienced a loss, you know it takes at least a week to deal with all of the logistics surrounding a death and burial. If your loved one doesn’t live near you, there is additional time needed to travel. Not to mention, people naturally need time to grieve the initial shock, otherwise their state of mind will prohibit them from performing efficiently.

Russell Friedman, author of “The Grief Recovery Handbook” and executive director of the Grief Recovery Institute, tracks a “Grief Index” which estimates it costs U.S. businesses more than $100 billion annually because of absenteeism, mistakes and low productivity due to the impact of grief in the workplace.

Some companies are at the forefront of supporting their employee’s total well-being, especially during difficult times. When my husband died suddenly, my boss offered me flexibility in various forms and that allowed me to manage my personal affairs while easing back into the office environment. Not everyone has this luxury, but if more employers were accommodating to grieving employees, it would contribute to and promote a positive culture. Humanity is often lost in the workplace because we are so focused on productivity and end results; but it’s the employees who make a company successful.

What can you do to offer a reasonable bereavement period? Consider one thing… flexibility. Each employee is different. Some employees will want to quickly return to work, hoping it will be a distraction. Others may need more time due to travel, personal changes in lifestyle, e.g. if they’ve lost a spouse, or the impact of the loss on their emotional well-being. Keep an open mind to how much time off is needed and if “transition” time would be beneficial.

NOTE: When the employee returns, you must be aware and understanding that grief will still produce side effects that may affect their performance (i.e. loss of concentration, physical ailments, etc…). Proper training can educate supervisors on how they can be supportive of the grieving employee in the workplace and how to properly manage grievers on a case by case basis.


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Karen Millsap teaches people how to build a strong mindset with everyday mental strength training exercises. Check out her podcast Unstuck On Purpose!

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