What Does Your Compassionate Leave Policy Say About Your Business Culture?

What Does Your Compassionate Leave Policy Say About Your Business Culture?
What Does Your Compassionate Leave Policy Say About Your Business Culture?

With UK productivity at an all-time low, the conversation in business circles is increasingly tuned to culture. There is a growing bank of evidence to suggest that organisational culture can have a hugely positive impact on productivity levels.

Your business culture encompasses your beliefs, values, behaviours and attitude, and is the driver for the strategic direction of your business. Business culture is a difficult entity to define. It essentially means ‘the way we do things around here.’ Culture is a powerful tool for engaging employees and improving productivity.

Empathy and compassion are an important aspect of the relationship you build with your employees. A lack of empathy can quickly ruin employee loyalty. Compassion involves an authentic desire to help others and creates a kinder workplace. It is an intrinsic part of your culture. A supportive environment has a positive impact on morale, productivity and ultimately the bottom line.

Many business leaders have jumped on the bandwagon when it comes to culture. With a misunderstanding of what positive culture really means. Surface-level perks and comfort in the office are not culture. Culture is much more than things.

Businesses who genuinely care about their employees have a compassionate leave policy to reflect that.

What is compassionate leave?

Compassionate leave, including bereavement leave, refers to time allowed off work when a member of an employee’s family or household dies or contracts a life-threatening illness or injury.

It may seem like a relatively straightforward HR policy to introduce. But bereavement is one of life’s difficulties that affects everyone differently. On top of which, grief in western society isn’t something that gets openly discussed. Most people grieve quietly. There is often pressure in the workplace to grieve quickly and get back to work.

For some employees, the distraction of work is a blessing. For others coping at work after a bereavement can be extremely difficult. Giving people sufficient time off to emotionally recover from bereavement or care for a loved one is the right thing to do. But many businesses, concerned with productivity, aren’t particularly generous when it comes to compassionate leave.

Bereavement leave: the law

There isn’t a specific law on bereavement leave. However, the Employment Rights Act 1996 entitles employees to take time off in an emergency situation. This includes the death of a dependent. This is known as a ‘day one’ employment right, which essentially means you can take time off immediately. However, there is no law to say employers have to pay employees for bereavement leave. This is at the discretion of the employer.

The government is planning to introduce rights for employed parents to take two weeks paid leave when they lose a child under the age of 18. This is to allow them time to grieve. The new leave allowance is expected to become law in 2020 under the new Parental Bereavement (Pay and Leave) bill. The new bereavement leave allowance will become one of the most progressive and generous in the world.

Why have a compassionate leave policy?

When a family member dies, it can be devastating. At such a difficult time, employees shouldn’t have to battle for time off. According to ACAS (the Advisory Conciliation Arbitration Service), writing paid compassionate leave into employees’ contracts can be a major support to employees and have a long term positive impact on their relationship with employers.

Having a compassionate leave policy in place that all staff are aware of will save employees having to negotiate time off when they are feeling at their most vulnerable.

The key to bereavement leave is flexibility. A blanket approach won’t suit everyone. Employees will need to attend a funeral and may have responsibility for making funeral arrangements, after which they may need additional time off to come to terms with their loss. Every situation will be different.

Grieving employees who aren’t given sufficient time off will be less productive if they come back to work too soon after a bereavement. In addition, a delay in the grieving process could lead to mental health problems, such as depression, later on.

See here for more information on what employers can do to help bereaved employees.

What does your compassionate leave policy say about your culture?

The average number of days granted for bereavement leave is 5. However, many businesses grant less than that. Can you imagine losing a close family member and being expected to carry on with your normal job after just a day or two off work?

Miserly compassionate leave breeds resentment and doesn’t put out the message that you care about the welfare of your employees. Your compassionate leave policy is a reflection of your culture.

According to a report last year in Personnel Today, Facebook announced that employees can take up to 20 days paid leave if an immediate family member dies. This comes from an understanding of the need to mourn such a tragic loss by Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, who lost her husband in 2015.

Facebook’s bereavement policy also extends to 10 days paid leave to grieve for an extended family member. From personal experience, Sandberg understood the needs of her employees.

On Facebook’s culture, Colin Graham, director of international compensation and benefits, said Facebook has worked towards building a work environment that is complementary to its employees’ personal lives, particularly parents.

Graham also said, “There’s so much more we can do in terms of the impact that we can have on the world. That’s equally true internally in terms of the work environment that we build.”

According to a report by Forbes, CEOs overwhelmingly link their company’s financial performance to empathy in the workplace. It pays to be kind and generous compassionate leave is the right thing to do for your employees.

Annie Button

Annie Button

Annie Button is a Portsmouth based writer and recent graduate. Annie has written for various online and print publications and specialises in business and career development.
Annie Button
Annie Button