It’s easy to forget when looking at financial statements and corporate reports, that even the largest corporation is composed of human beings. People with full lives, that continue and thrive outside the workplace, and most of the time, are supported by the workplace.
But what happens when those lives are not thriving? What happens when the human beings who make up your corporation struggle, and sometimes, lose against the forces of life and have to face their worst fears, and enormous tragedies? This is not a niche concern. It’s too easy to believe that bereavement is something that only happens to families with ongoing health concerns, or that compassionate leave will only ever be needed by someone with close and immediate dependents. The reality, as reported by the National Council for Palliative Care, is that The death of someone close will affect almost all of us at some point, with almost half of people (47%) reporting being bereaved in the last five years alone.
Compassionate leave then, is not a minor concern. Any organisation worth its salt will already know this and have a robust bereavement policy in place. Because the fact is that a personal tragedy tests our relationships, and people going through such a tragedy will reassess those relationships in the light of the support that was offered. This is true for family, friends, and it is enormously true for the professional relationship one has with their employer.
The consequences of risking this relationship at a time of crisis, can be dire. Mental health is an integral part of any employee’s wellbeing and functioning, and at a time when their mental health is stretched thin in their personal lives, adding additional stress onto it in their professional sphere can cause real, lasting damage. When their personal lives feel chaotic and out of control, a workplace that is reliable, and compassionate can feel like an island of calm normalcy in the storm. In a Business Insider article, author Lisa Murfield ("The ROI of Compassion") reported that: "It's also not a policy that employees typically abuse, in fact, having a generous bereavement policy increases employee loyalty."
"It's a question of, what do you want your company to be known for?" she said.
And losing that normalcy comes with real financial costs as well. In the same article, researchers reported that lost productivity and increased rates of absenteeism among grieving workers cost the USA more than $75 billion each year
So ultimately, a compassionate leave policy is not just incredibly necessary, and tied to company values, it is also fiscally wise. The fact that companies struggle to implement one is even less tolerable because it doesn’t have to be difficult at all. And yet, this oversight is incredibly common. THe Irish Hospice Foundation found in a survey, that out of 34 local organisations, only 4 had a formal compassionate leave policy in place, with the remainder having an ad hoc, person-to-person response as the situation arose. As you can imagine, these responses varied widely and were based entirely on manager’s discretion. These organisations were systematically leaving their employee’s wellbeing, support, and their organisations reputation in the total hands of a few managers; a needless, and careless risk.
This is especially concerning for UK employees and employers since the UK currently does not have a legally mandated minimum period of compassionate leave. As per Gov.UK’s guidelines, employers are required to provide a 'reasonable' amount of time off, when employees need it to manage an emergency regarding a dependent. However, what constitutes 'reasonable' is very much up to the discretion of the employer, and combined with a make-it-up-as-you-go implementation, the damage caused to a grieving employee's mental health, and their goodwill, can be grave.
A robust policy covering bereavement doesn’t need an enormous investment or research, in fact, it doesn’t even need to be addressed independently as such. A huge part of good bereavement is making sure that after you are in line with local laws, that you make the process of booking time off as seamless and free of friction as possible. Good compassionate leave principles can easily be rolled up into good leave management overall. Leave that can be:
1. Customised to manage employees in different locales and different languages: reduces the stress and admin of actually booking a compassionate leave period.
2. Localised leave allowances allow companies to be in sync with local laws regarding bereavement policies
3. A standard, whitelabelled leave management system for all types of leave bookings mean employees are looking at a familiar system, rather than approaching a new process
4. Having different allowances and user rights in place also preserves employee privacy as they may not be ready to have these conversations face to face.
Bereavement is receiving more notice online as well. Google trends show that searches for compassionate leave, and bereavement policy have gone up in the past 24 months, as trends shift towards examining a company’s entire approach to employee mental health. In the last 12 months, the devastating impact of Covid-19 has also brought these concerns to the forefront, and in fact, to the floor of the Parliament, with multiple bills tabled and debated over legal protections around bereavement and compassionate leave
The solution for any organisation becomes simple: on the one hand, sensitive managers and HR staff, and a familiar knowledge of local laws around support during bereavement are necessary. But while those complex issues are being addressed, actually managing the admin around compassionate leave can be easily and quickly offloaded onto a custom designed software, that can be a part of the entire leave management ecosystem and thus, take away one element of problem-solving and admin during this incredibly sensitive, and drought time.
With solutions like that in place, we can focus on remembering that employees are people first, and provide them the empathetic and robust support that they need, and will remember, when it comes time to re-evaluate who they choose to work for.