top of page

Bereavement Leave: Stripping Away Restrictions for Real Support

The heart doesn't keep an HR-approved memo on whom it is supposed to grieve for or for how long. Yet, traditional workplace policies on bereavement leave seem to send quite the opposite message—they come with a laundry list of who qualifies for emotional downtime and who doesn't, almost as if loss could be parsed into standard categories. It's high time for a radical rewrite. I am calling for organizations to relinquish the dated recipe of tying bereavement leave to the official-sounding 'relationship status' and instead advocate offering bereavement leave that accommodates all forms of loss.

A Paradigm Shift in Perception

Dismantling the relationship requirement isn't a suggestion rooted in a rebellion; instead, it is a strategic leap toward a more inclusive culture and a reflection of the evolving human experience. To demand that employees prove the depth of their connection to someone who has passed before they are allowed to grieve on the company's watch is, at its core, an invasive and outdated practice. Why should the anguish of losing a beloved pet warrant any less time for recuperation than losing a cousin?

You Grieve, You Need Leave

The tight grip on who qualifies for leave based on 'relationship' severely underestimates grief's universality. Grief transcends the boundaries of familial ties; it can arrive unannounced, a sidekick to any form of loss, from a divorce decree to the funeral arrangements of a friend from the neighbourhood. By recognizing this, businesses have the power to not only support their employees through some of their darkest times but also to forge a company culture rooted in compassion and flexibility.

Addressing the Skeptics: Cultivating a Culture That Trusts

Skeptics might fire back with fears that such a move could be 'exploited', leading to a culture of unwarranted absence. If so, your organization has a culture problem, not a bereavement problem. This could be a moment of reckoning to redefine expectations and redefine the covenant of trust between employer and employee.

Leaders Lead by Example

One of the most potent tools in this cultural shift is leadership endorsement. When leaders are transparent about their own experiences with grief and vocal about the policies in place to support it, they pave the way for company-wide acceptance. This is a journey that requires courage—from leaders to instigate it and from the culture to sustain it.

The Hidden Costs of Inflexibility

The rigidity of traditional bereavement policies can often lead to employees taking unsanctioned leaves or worse—showing up at work, emotionally scarred and potentially disruptive. The cost implications of such scenarios are rarely counted among the initial ledgers but they resonate in productivity loss, disengagement, and even tarnished reputations.

An inclusive bereavement leave policy demonstrates a company's commitment to its most valuable asset—its people. In return, businesses can expect a more engaged, loyal workforce with a higher level of psychological safety and, in turn, resilience through even the most tumultuous times.

The Roadmap to Implementation: A Stepwise Approach

Radically rethinking policies is one thing; turning them into a functioning reality is quite another. The key is to approach this in calculated steps, with culture-building initiatives alongside practical policy adjustments.

Review, Revise, Revise Again

Begin by critically reviewing your current bereavement policies. Who do they serve, and who do they exclude? I am sure that they don't account for those who have to travel to a funeral for example. Once the shortcomings are clear, work with stakeholders to craft a revised framework that is not only a good starting point but also compassionate and sustainable.

Communication is Key

Managers are often the front line of such policies and they will ebb and flow around them. The most important part is that everyone knows what is allowable. If the baseline is reasonable, then we have more room for equity and inclusivity. Bob doesn't get upset that Anne received 2 weeks' accommodation and he only got 4 days.

Introduce Feedback Loops

Lastly, every employee coming back into the workplace should have a return to work-process. That process should include feedback loops that welcome critiques and suggestions for your policy review cycle. Continuous learning and adjustments will be the hallmark of a policy that truly serves the needs of the workforce.

As the conversation around mental well-being continues to gain momentum, the inclusivity of bereavement policies becomes a flagship issue. This isn't just another paragraph in the HR handbook; it's a nuanced reflection of our humanity and the kind of workspaces we wish to manifest in the world. If you would like to learn more or are interested in support in cultivating new bereavement policies or processes, please reach in.

16 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page