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Employers’ bereavement policies: A step in the right direction, or the wrong approach?

It can be devastating when an employee suffers loss: devastating to them as a person, and to the part they play in the company. Lack of focus can prove hazardous in some roles; at the very worst, it can lower productivity and it can even have an affect on colleagues in the same workplace.  sad face businessman

Most employees would expect time off work for a short while whilst the initial shock and grief from their loss subside. However, there’s currently no legal obligation for an employer to allow time off for bereavement.

A recent survey carried out by NCPC (The National Council for Palliative Care) found that half of those asked would consider resigning from an organisation if it failed to show its sympathetic side and offer leave in such a situation. Certainly a statistic that’s hard to ignore.

Are bereavement policies the answer?

Whilst they may seem the ‘right thing to do’, how can you measure the length of time an employee should take as leave? For instance, the sudden, tragic death of a child can have a completely different impact to that of an elderly relative after a long-term illness. People grieve differently: some may be able to function quite normally in the workplace and appreciate the distraction from home life, whilst for others, such stress may aggravate existing ill-health conditions that require more than just a few days to get over. Is such a decision a ‘one-size-fits-all’ issue?

What about the costs of such a move?

Increasing bureaucracy is already a sore point with small businesses looking to achieve growth in challenging times. The cost of enforced leave if a government ruling went ahead on this issue could cause some real problems. It’s also an avenue open to abuse, given the sensitive nature of loss: would you challenge an employee if you suspected they were taking liberties with leave for bereavement?

Alternatives to paid leave

Although leave for the funeral isn’t something that can be avoided (whether extra to holiday time or as part of an employee’s annual leave entitlement), additional leave may not be the only answer. support imageProfessional bereavement support within the workplace could be one option that would benefit both the employee and the company, though this may not be practical or affordable for smaller companies.

If an employee’s role is stressful by nature, a sympathetic approach and a temporary move to a less-demanding role could be enough to help the individual through the most difficult period.

Unfortunately, there are no clear answers. Grief is personal and individual; to expect every employee to react the same way and to need the exact same support is unrealistic.

The workforce of an organisation is its greatest asset; whilst bereavement policies may sound a good idea, it’s understandable why some employers wouldn’t want to see them become law.

Do you have an official, or unofficial, bereavement policy within your company? What are your thoughts on this subject – should such legislation exist? Please add your comments below; I’d love to hear your views.

If you need my help on any management issue, or if you’d like executive coaching / leadership coaching, contact me on 01302 220221.



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