You may have heard that Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg recently announced that the company’s employees can now take 20 days of paid leave if an immediate family member dies.
The widespread publicity around this generous bereavement leave has raised questions about how long off work is really enough when a family member dies. How far can you set a policy in stone that will be right for everyone? And does your approach at these extremes ripple out to demonstrate what sort of employer you truly are?
Sheryl Sandberg herself has spoken publicly about the impact of the unexpected death of her husband back in 2015 and the time she needed away from work to grieve and support their young children.
In a statement issued via Facebook to announce the policy change, she said: “Companies that stand by the people who work for them do the right thing and the smart thing – it helps them serve their mission, live their values, and improve their bottom line by increasing the loyalty and performance of their workforce.” Certainly there’s evidence that supporting employees through personal issues can increase their loyalty and performance in the long term.Though many issues in the workplace are sensitive and difficult to handle, it could be said that this is one of the very hardest to navigate.
As a leader, this kind of situation can leave you wondering what to do for the best. Of course you’re conscious of the needs of your staff, and you want to make sure that they’re supported during what is one of the most stressful and upsetting times in their lives…
But you also have a business to think about. And it wouldn’t serve anyone at all for you to not have robust and consistent policies that you can implement in such situations.
Let’s consider the legislation when it comes to bereavement leave. Here in the UK, there is no statutory right to receive paid leave after the death of a loved one or a family member. Workers are however entitled to take a ‘reasonable amount’ of unpaid time off when they have experienced the death of a dependent.
Ultimately, this means that it’s down to you to decide what’s fair, and how you want to make sure that you strike an effective balance between being a sympathetic and reasonable employer, and ensuring that day-to-day operational requirements are being met.
For many, returning to work can be a positive distraction and a chance to regain routine. But if pressured back into work before they are ready, there is a chance that the employee won’t be very productive and it may even cause a delay in the grieving process.
The issue of bereavement leave is something that you might not even think about until you find yourself trying to navigate your way through a particularly sensitive set of circumstances. But it’s the kind of situation when you need to know exactly what your approach is going to be - because there will be plenty else to work through.
The bottom line here? No one likes to think about the practicalities of creating a bereavement policy. Making decisions now though is likely to save you – and more pertinently – your staff a great deal of heartache in the longer term.