For the vast majority of individuals, the concept of “life must go on” is an incredibly difficult one to grasp when dealing with the immense grief associated with the loss of a loved one. Managing bereavement is difficult enough in our personal lives, but what do you as an employer do when dealing with bereavement in the workplace?

For many employers, the standard rule of thumb is anywhere from 3 to 5 days of bereavement leave in the event of the death of an immediate family member (spouse, child, sibling, parent, or an in-law equivalent). 3 days for the loss of a spouse or beloved parent? 5 days for the loss of a child?

Such a short time frame doesn’t quite seem sufficient when dealing with such a loss, and many employers have modified their allotted time off to cater to their employees, some allowing mourning employees weeks to heal and grieve. Some states have included the allotment of a number of weeks of bereavement leave as part of their job-protected leaves. Studies have shown that the death of a loved one affects a person’s ability to focus and function productively in the workplace. This begs the question, how do we deal with bereavement in the workplace in an efficient manner?

It is certainly a fine balancing act. While we want what is best for our employees and want to allow them sufficient time to grieve and heal, business needs are still a top priority and we need our employees to return to the office in a healthy state that warrants productive work. How do you balance the two?

  • Be Flexible with Time Off – Be flexible when managing bereavement leave and allotted time off. Every individual is different and grieves in unique ways. While one individual may want and need to stay busy for their own personal sanity and can bounce back after a few days, another may want to be alone at home to mourn in private and may need a bit more time. Understanding these differences and being willing to accommodate those needs (e.g., telecommuting, working from home, providing extra time off, etc.) will not only benefit the health of your employees in the short-term, but may help increase employee loyalty in the long-term.
  • Be Flexible with Job Duties – This isn’t to say allow essential functions to completely get pushed to the wayside, but cut your employees a bit of slack as they start to readjust upon returning from a bereavement leave. Allow them a chance to refocus, take an extra break, take a walk, and provide them opportunities to do what they need to do to get back into their normal routines.
  • Duty Sharing – Often employees will need to take a few extra days off (for mourning, for travel, for funeral planning or related activities, etc.). In the event that an unexpected absence disrupts the flow of business, see if fellow coworkers are able and willing to share the absent employee’s duties while they are out of the office. This reciprocated act of kindness is invaluable in promoting true teamwork.
  • Practice Compassion and Support – You don’t have to be a therapist to be a compassionate human being. Many grieving individuals simply want to talk about their loved one, discuss what happened, and remember them. Be there for your employees and coworkers. Readjusting to routines is challenging, and having someone at work who is willing to listen is an important part of the grieving process.

While business needs have to remain a priority, remember that the health and wellness of your employees is equally as important. Be empathetic and flexible and work with your grieving employees to find that perfect balance of work and dealing with events in their personal lives that is mutually beneficial and allows them the chance to mourn and heal.

In loving memory of our founder, Richard Noland. Your incredible talent, genuine compassion for everyone around you, and the joy and light you brought to our lives will truly be missed.