Written by Haley Rafferty, Team Success Manager

A good bereavement policy is sort of like having an emergency kit in your home. You feel a lot more at peace knowing it’s there, but you hope you never have to use it.

Next Stage recently gave our employee handbook a total revamp. What was previously a pretty basic guide to our PTO policy and remote work now includes wellness days, conflict resolution guidelines and a parental leave policy, among other great resources and benefits. With plans for continued growth, formalizing policy is important for allowing us to protect and maintain the thoughtful, caring culture that is so highly valued by our team.

Included in this revamp is a bereavement policy.

It’s definitely not the sexiest policy. And it doesn’t tend to elicit cheers of excitement from employees. However, I’d like to share how we can all be doing bereavement better and why it matters.

Keep in mind, I don’t have a background in Human Resources or Talent Management, so my perspective is more of that of an employee (and, you know, a human).

I admit that, at different points in my career, I have found myself worrying about work when attending a family member’s funeral out of town and even worse, actually working in between a different family member’s visitation and funeral.

As I was researching what Next Stage would choose to be its policy, I was astounded by what is considered ‘standard’ practice. For example, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) lists just four (four!!) consecutive days as the bereavement time for the loss of a spouse, parent or child.

At the other end of the spectrum, Facebook announced in 2017 a new bereavement policy that offered 20 days to employees following the death of an immediate family member.

We landed somewhere in the middle, offering 15 days of leave for immediate family that can be taken in non-consecutive days within six months.

I feel really good about this policy. Even so, I still ask myself, “Is it enough?”

The answer is no…but let me explain.

Grief is a funny thing. It comes and goes, shows up when you least expect it, and manifests differently for everybody. Yes, a bereavement policy is crucial, and every company should have one, but even more important is building a company culture that will support your employee, teammate or boss when they are ready to return to work after experiencing loss, or in the last days of a loved one’s illness.

Here are some steps you can take toward building that culture:

Remove the Guilt

Remove any feelings of guilt for taking bereavement time by encouraging your employees to take the time they need. If you’re a manager, lead by example – take. the. time. you. need.

Be understanding and Flexible

Know that there will be good days and bad days for your team members. Ask your them what they need. Flexible hours? An empathetic ear? More chocolate stocked in the office pantry?

Provide Resources

Provide everyone on your team, especially managers, with resources so that they can feel more equipped to approach grief. We’re getting better at this as a society in general, but a lot of people still don’t know what to say, or do, for someone grieving. I personally enjoyed what Marc Maron said at his live show last year

– “sometimes just bearing witness to someone’s grief can be enough.”

Anderson Cooper has a new podcast that tackles loss and grief  while giving comfort and insight into the process. Harvard Business Review also has a great article from 2019 about grief at work. A quick search will return a long list of resources that you can share based on your company’s needs. At the end of the day, seeing your employees as whole people with lives outside of work goes a long way.

If you’re not sure where to start in your own company, just remember that nobody goes into a new year planning for someone they love to die. It is the responsibility of the leaders in Operations, Human Resources, or Talent Management to have a policy in place that serves employees and reflects the reality of losing someone. It’s a win-win to offer peace of mind to your team and build a foundation for a strong and supportive culture at the same time.

Check out our full bereavement policy below (that I hope we’ll never have to use). We’d love to hear from you – what do you think? What is your current employer’s bereavement policy? How can companies continue to make this better for their employees?

Next Stage Bereavement Policy 

In the event of the death of a loved one including a partner, child, parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin, friend, pet, or pregnancy loss, an employee will be permitted paid time off to grieve, attend funeral services or settle affairs. Next Stage offers 15 days for immediate family and 5 days for extended family. Bereavement time does not need to be taken in consecutive days, but must be taken within 6 months of the death. Bereavement leave has no cash value at the termination of employment.

At Next Stage, we love to talk a lot about both internal and external impact for companies, knowing that it comes from within. As we grow as a company, we try to practice what we preach by spending time and energy on our own culture, operations and policies. We look forward to sharing more blogs like this that give a peek into the policies that help keep our team healthy, make us attractive to potential employees and protect the culture that our team values. We hope you’ll follow along!