6 Steps to Developing or Refreshing a Bereavement Policy

Conversations about grief in the workplace are a must

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Liz Eddy

At the start of July 2021, COVID had claimed more than 600,000 lives in the U.S. — but the grief toll extends far beyond that number. For every person who died, countless others were left to pick up the pieces; an estimated 5 million people are mourning the losses of loved ones. And many of those people had jobs at employers without a clear workplace bereavement policy.

Too often, companies lack impactful bereavement plans. They might offer EAPs and life insurance, but those benefits rarely handle anything grief-related. Why? It usually comes down to full plates. HR leaders feel too strapped to worry about something that’s seemingly not urgent — until it becomes extremely urgent.

According to Emplicity, nearly two-thirds of HR leaders’ time is spent moving through administrative duties, dealing with compliance issues, and meeting with co-workers and vendors. Consequently, they have limited time to devote to benefits like health insurance, life insurance, 401(k) options, and bereavement policies.

While this is understandable, bereavement shouldn’t be an afterthought. The pandemic has shown just how important it is for every employee to have the time, support, and tools necessary to grieve.

Updating Antiquated Bereavement Policies for Modern Workers

Some companies craft standard bereavement leave policies, offering about three days of paid time off —  but 72 hours is hardly enough time for most people to return to any semblance of normalcy after a loss. According to one survey, 53% of respondents felt that the sympathy they received after a loss came with an expiration date, and 58% of that group felt expected to recover in just three months.

What is the right amount of time? It depends on the situation and the person. But without a safety net provided by thoughtfully constructed bereavement plans, many grief-stricken employees find themselves barely able to cope with the anger, waves of depression, and myriad emotional and physical responses associated with grief.

With that said, there has never been a more critical time for HR leaders to learn how to support employees through grief and loss and adopt bereavement policies. While there are no national employment standards for bereavement leave for them to follow, the following steps can guide them as they develop bereavement plans that truly help and work for their employees.

1. Learn how grief impacts people.

Even HR professionals who have had personal experience with loss might not understand how grief changes workers intellectually or psychologically. Undergoing training on their own — or requiring full-staff grief training — can help them know how to provide assistance. These workshops should be repeated annually, similar to initiatives like DEI and sexual harassment prevention training.

2. Set bereavement policy floors instead of ceilings.

Most organizations have bereavement policies that cap out prematurely. Setting a cap on bereavement time forces an arbitrary “grief limit” on employees and assumes a one-size-fits-all approach. A more empathetic way to arrange bereavement plans is to set the minimum time an employee is expected to be away from the office. The maximum time can then be adjusted per circumstance.

3. Include miscarriage in workplace bereavement policies.

Individuals who experience a miscarriage deal with unique and severe grief, but miscarriage is rarely covered by company bereavement plans. Specifying it as part of a bereavement policy shows support for workers and their families.

4. Allow bereavement leave to be taken in parts.

Grief doesn’t end within a few days, weeks, or months. For instance, an employee might need time to regroup near or on the anniversary of a loved one’s death. A progressive bereavement policy can anticipate the need for “mini-leaves” after an initial loss.

5. Remove qualifiers for immediate family.

The term “immediate family” means something different for every person or situation. Does a grown child’s fiancé constitute immediate family? How about a great-uncle who served as a surrogate father figure? An employee’s grief for people other than a spouse, parent, or child may necessitate time off, and bereavement plans should account for that.

6. Consider adding a three-day pet bereavement policy.

It’s no secret that many professionals consider their pets as family members. When a pet dies, they need time to mourn privately. Offering pet bereavement can remove the weight of working while dealing with the loss of a pet.

Workplace bereavement policy planning may not feel intuitive to many HR practitioners, but conversations about grief in the workplace are integral. Death will always be a part of life. Employers that tackle grief directly will foster stronger, people-first cultures and show employees they care through actions rather than just words.

To learn more about our comprehensive bereavement response and suite of bereavement benefits, click here.

Categories: Grief in the Workplace, Supporting Someone Who's Grieving

Lantern provides guidance and support for navigating life before and after a death.

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