My grandfather passed away recently. He meant the world to me and I could write an entire post on how he helped me become the woman I am. However, today’s not that day. As the fog lifts that we all experience when losing a loved one, I’ve realized a few things about grieving and the workplace that need to have a spotlight shone on them.
Within seconds of finding out, I immediately called Kin’s founder, Craig. I’m not quite sure what I said, but somehow I relayed the information to him coherently (maybe). Then, I just sat there silently on the phone. Saying anything else or making any other decision seemed far beyond my reach.
Craig responded with, “Go. I’ve got you covered, you’re fine. I’m so sorry. Just go and do what you need to do.”
And so I did.
The week I was out due to my grandfather’s death was a blur. But what I distinctly remember is how rawly human I could be because work was 100% removed. While I don’t wish for anyone to feel the pain I’ve felt, I know that we will all go through this experience many times as our loved ones pass. I’m assuming if you read this you’re likely in charge of shaping a workplace. I want to share what helped me get through it in hopes it’ll influence how you treat grieving in your workplace.
Remove Work Without Repercussion.
There’s so much we have to do when a loved one passes. While I wasn’t directly in charge of my grandfather’s arrangements, there was a lot to do. I still felt responsible to get my husband and I there, make sure that our pets were taken care of while we were gone, make sure my younger brother was all set to arrive on time, write the obituary for my grandfather, prepare the eulogy that honored him as best I could, prepare myself to see people who have taken care of me all of my life grieving, etc. The list went on and on.
We had such little time to get it all together and I needed it to be right. I was honored to do it. Knowing that work was handled helped me to make the right decisions without any paralysis due to other things on my mind. We should help all of our employees that freedom.
As plans began to settle and I knew what my next 48 hours would look like, I made the realization that I had scheduled a week-long vacation months ago to happen the following week. An unbelievable amount of guilt set in once I saw that on the calendar. I would be out this week for my grandfather, then out again next week for vacation. My work had been so great to me so far, but I worried that leaving for this long with such short notice was letting everyone down.
I called Craig to explain my position and he did the best thing he could possibly do. He said this: “Lisa, no. Work will be here when you get back. You go. I want you to spend time with your family. That is more important. We will see you when you get back. I’ll let the team know, and if they need anything critical from you, I’ll let them know they can reach out.”
The response Craig gave me was perfectly crafted for the situation. If you are facing the same situation as a leader, here are how his words impacted me most as a grieving employee:
- Giving Freedom To Stop Working: He was letting me know I didn’t need to do the work of reaching out to my direct reports to inform them. I didn’t feel on the hook for any next steps. I was free after this call.
- Providing Reassurance That All Is Okay: He reassured me that my job right now wasn’t to take care of our company, but to take care of my family. I immediately released all guilt from not being focused on work.
- Reassuring The Employee’s Value To The Company: He wasn’t cutting me out from the normalcy of being relied upon (which he knows I take pride in) by saying he wouldn’t block anyone from reaching out to me if something big came up. While dealing with a great loss, I knew my job would be something I could rely on. I still felt in the loop and valued.
No amount of culture will remind an employee of these things when a loss hits. Many people freeze and even the smallest decision, such as what to eat for lunch, can be daunting for a few days. You have to actively remind them of the above, sometimes multiple times, until it sinks in enough for them to process it.
Relationships shouldn’t determine shorter grieving periods.
It has always been a gripe of mine that some workplaces have bereavement policies in place that have structures for what relationships you can and cannot use them for. Since it wasn’t my mother, father, brother or husband who passed, I would likely receive less time and less sympathy based on certain policies.
We need to get past that. We understand now how impactful relationships can be outside of next of kin, and we should be honoring that in the workplace. Regardless of the title of the relationship to the employee, grieving will happen. As we work to build better workplaces around the globe together, shouldn’t we give our employees the dignity and the relief to have the time they need to do so?
The (sad) state of workplace bereavement policies.
Looking at the average bereavement policy in the United States leaves much to be desired. First, bereavement policies are not mandatory. You may be able to use personal time or if you have a company that is large enough, you can tap into an FMLA (family medical leave act) policy.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 60% of all US workers and 71% of full-time workers do get paid funeral leave due to a death in the family. If you fall into those majorities, SHRM reports you are likely to get about an average of three to four days off through a bereavement policy for an immediate family member and as little as one day for extended family or friends.
Let me break down my four days after finding out. My grandfather died on a Wednesday. I spent most of that day in a tear-filled haze contacting family, trying to figure out what I was going to do and waiting on the services to be arranged so I would know when to be there. The next day, I planned for my trip, did laundry, packed, cried and wrote an obituary. On Friday, I traveled with my husband to Connecticut and finished writing my eulogy on the plane. I touched down around dinner time to see my little brother waiting for me and tried to see as much of my family as I could to have some semblance of normalcy that day. Saturday were the services – I remember very little from that day. Sunday, my husband returned home while I stayed with my family to help my mother with the loss of her father and to just be as close to her as possible. Over the next 3-4 days my mother and I worked to make sure my grandmother was okay, constantly checking in and not thinking about much else until my husband and children returned to visit family. It was a vacation we had planned months ago.
How could I be expected to return back to work on Monday with zero time to process my loss and be a productive, able employee? There would have been no way I could have done that and been proud of the outcome. In fact, I would be hurting the company by processing the event on their time when I should be responsible for driving Kin forward. By taking the time off to grieve (a full six days, to be exact), I was able to calibrate myself and not feel as though I had to choose between my family and my job.
I am there for my company when it needs me. In return, I need my company to be there for me, too. By having policies in place that allowed me to walk away, grieve and find balance, it was. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sung the praises of my employer over the past two weeks to anyone who would listen.
I’m not alone when it comes to this view point. Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg announced in 2017 that the company now offers 20 days of time for employees mourning the death of an immediate family member, and 10 days off for a member of their extended family. The change came after Sandberg lost her husband suddenly the year before.
Family-friendly policies like this show that employers are recognizing how important it is to provide policies and procedures that put work/life balance in the spotlight. Doing something like extending bereavement policies acknowledges that an employee needs time to not only plan and attend a family member’s services, but recover and regroup afterward.
I now look forward to returning to work full-force. I know that I will feel useful and engaged with the company that looked after me so well during this sad period in my life.