Making your workplace safe for grief
Attempting to get her new business off the ground, Anna worked in public services by day and as a startup founder during every other minute she could spare. She was feeling isolated by the extreme schedule and neglectful of her friends and family — typical of startup life — when she learned of her sister’s suicide. It would be the Twitter message, accidentally ignored for a month, that would send Anna reeling. The note asked that they get together. “I miss you,” it read. Anna finally saw it just days after her sister’s death. Grief doesn’t just come with sadness and loss. Grief can also come fully-loaded with guilt, anger, uncertainty, denial, regret, and so much more.
Yet many companies lack norms or policies for dealing with grief — or “bereavement,” in HR-speak. Those that do have policies often find they’re insufficient. There are strict rules around what type of grief makes one eligible for leave. In most countries, a stillbirth doesn’t warrant bereavement leave, nor does the loss of a best friend, a favorite aunt, or a beloved nephew. In the U.S., Oregon is the only state to guarantee paid bereavement leave. Most current bereavement policies suggest that an employee should absorb their shock, plan and execute a funeral, cope in a healthy way with their loss, and then return to work within three days at full engagement.