Giving Employees Bereavement Time is Good For Business

Facebook made the news recently for adding a generous paid bereavement leave to its list of benefits. An employee can get up to 20 days of paid leave when a member of their immediate family dies and 10 days for a member of their extended family.

COO Sheryl Sandburg, who tragically lost her husband Dave in 2015 during a trip to Mexico, announced the policy on where else? Her Facebook page.

“We’re extending bereavement leave to give our employees more time to grieve and recover and will now provide paid family leave so they can care for sick family members as well. Only 60 percent of private sector workers in the United States get paid time off after the death of a loved one and usually just a few days.”

Her post got over 35,000 likes.

I’m a big proponent of employees taking time off for vacation, and have written about it several times. In “Three Reasons You Want Employees to Take Vacation I discuss how it’s better for their health and makes them more productive to have a break from work.

Bereavement leave is in a different category than vacation, of course. And there is no federally mandated requirement for payment for time off after the death of a loved one, even to attend the funeral. However, about 60 percent of all workers do receive around three days for the death of an immediate family member and one day for extended family members.

The 2016 Employee Benefits Report done by the Society of Human Resource Management reported that 81 percent of employers give paid bereavement leave for their employees.

The typical amount of leave given was one day for an extended family member or relative of an opposite-sex partner; two days for a miscarriage, relative of a spouse or relative of a same-sex spouse; three days for an extended family or partner and four days for a spouse or a child. Most companies did not provide any leave for the death of a friend or a colleague.

(Many companies are giving time off for the death of a pet. But that’s a topic for another day.)

A study done by Boston Consulting Group on a situation that also involves leave – family leave for mothers and fathers – found that “employers see a solid business case for offering paid family leave, including benefits such as improved talent retention and attraction and their own ability to manage the costs of the program through thoughtful policy design.” This study was conducted by reviewing the policies of more than 250 companies.

An article about the study, “Why Paid Family Leave is Good Business,” points to five reasons giving family leave is good for business. I believe a few of these can apply to bereavement leave as well.

  • Employee retention. When employees feel valued as individuals by being given time off when they need it, then tend to stick around.
  • Improved engagement, morale and productivity. An employee who isn’t allowed paid time off after the death of a loved one can suffer from low morale. And even though they may be in the office right after a death, they won’t be very productive. Giving them time off allows them to be with family during a difficult time.

“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,” Sheryl wrote in her Facebook message.

I do have to add one caveat, however. I once worked with a company where a guy took leave three times in one year, each time claiming his grandmother had died. “How many grandmothers do you have?” I asked him after the third time.

“Oh, [expletive],” he said, realizing he’d been caught. “Yeah, you used that same excuse three months ago,” I informed him. He did not get paid leave that time.

In my career as a turnaround authority, I often employ the motto “Trust, but verify.” In the case of bereavement leave, this is a good motto to remember. You don’t want a few people who are taking advantage of a policy to ruin it for everyone else.

Giving employees time to grieve is the right thing to do. It shows an employee you care, and can lead to increased productivity. Sounds like a win-win to me.

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