Bereavement leave: Why Irish companies are still falling short.
Grief is an indescribable pain. Only people who have felt the jagged shock of it slice through them will understand just how horrendous it can be.
Self care, exercise and even personal hygiene are swept aside in the torrent of emotions.
Suddenly the simplest tasks like finding a matching sock, completing a shopping list or even brushing your hair can require a Trojan effort.
It’s one of the toughest human experiences that we have to endure, yet, there is still no legal requirement for Irish companies to provide their employees with bereavement leave.
For a nation that handles death so well (Irish wakes are praised the world over) we still don’t handle what comes next with any great compassion or understanding.
When a colleague returns to work after a death, the office falls quiet. No one wants to say the wrong thing, so, in turn they decide to say nothing. We ignore the emotional issue and hope that it goes away.
And that’s exactly what we’re doing by not legally enforcing paid bereavement leave for the people of Ireland. We’re avoiding what is a hard and painful topic. It’s simply not good enough.
Thankfully, some companies have compassionate bereavement leave policies in place already.
Last year, Facebook announced that it had extended its bereavement policy. Doubling its leave, Facebook now offers up to 20 paid days off for employees who have lost an immediate family member or 10 days of leave for an extended family member.
Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, who lost her husband in 2015, wholeheartedly supports the measure. In a Facebook post last year she outlined why.
“Amid the nightmare of Dave’s death when my kids needed me more than ever, I was grateful every day to work for a company that provides bereavement leave and flexibility,” she wrote. “I needed both to start my recovery. I know how rare that is, and I believe strongly that it shouldn’t be. People should be able to work and be there for their families.”
However, we all can’t work at Facebook. What about the people that work in the local café or bank? Is their grief any less real?
We need to even the playing field and draw up legislation to make sure that everyone no matter what their career, can avail of compassionate leave. Not everyone will be in a position to take unpaid leave or even quit and find a new job down the line.
This isn’t a big ask. Statutory bereavement leave is common across Europe and around the world. While the conditions may vary in terms of total time off or how much employees are paid, Ireland is currently lagging behind countries like Albania or Bosnia and Herzegovina with respect to these rights.
In general, Irish people are offered up to three days paid leave for the death of close family members, although some organisations may provide five days on a discretionary period.
Three measly days to pick yourself up after all terrible ordeal. Three days to try and remember how to interact with humans again. Three days to move on from one of the worst experiences of your life.
Yes, employees can try to get a doctors certificate or simply take unpaid leave but why should they have to?
If companies can afford to offer employee perks such as free gym memberships, pawternity leave and healthcare benefits then it’s about time that they stepped up to look after their employees when they are at their most vulnerable.
Grief is messy, complicated, and yes, completely unprofessional but it’s also human which means that it will permeate each and every workplace.
From an employer point of view, bereavement leave makes good business sense. Those looking to build employee engagement, promote workplace wellness and earn staff loyalty have got to put their staff first so they can reap rewards later.