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EDITOR'S BLOG
Jul 21, 2014

In praise of bereavement leave

Under-appreciated benefits hold huge value when they’re needed
    

By Todd Humber

Employees never understand the full value of their benefits package until it comes time to use them.

Things like maternity leave benefits, short- and long-term disability and bereavement leave are barely on the radar when it comes to what jobseekers are looking for — generally, it’s “How much does the job pay?” and “How much vacation do I get.”

Unfortunately, I got to put one of those underappreciated benefits to the test recently when my mom passed away on July 13. Her death wasn’t completely unexpected, but it happened far faster than we anticipated. Thankfully, I got to spend some time with her at the end — moments I will cherish forever.

I was able to take a full week of bereavement leave off work to spend in my hometown of Windsor, Ont. — which made me thankful on two fronts: First, that my employer offered the leave. And second, and perhaps more importantly, it has a culture that encourages employees to take the time off to spend with loves ones, make funeral arrangements and start the healing process.

I know some people who have struggled with the decision of how much time to take off, and were even pressured not to be gone too long. But last week, there was no question where I needed to be — and I return to work with a heavy heart, but ready to dive back in and try to resume a “normal” life.

Not having to worry about work, and working with a team and in a culture that gave me the luxury of truly putting it out of my head, made the days after my mom’s death easier. I was able to focus on my family rather than worrying about deadlines and reports and who was doing what back at the office.

It allowed me to spend time with friends, to reminisce about my mom’s remarkable life and everything she accomplished as a teacher, as a scouter and as a mom, aunt, sister and grandmother. (The latter being, by far, her favourite role.)

It allowed me to spend time with my niece and nephew, to see my aunt — who flew in from B.C. — and to be there for my sister, who was there so often for my mom in recent years as her health worsened.

Until last week, I never thought of bereavement leave as an employee engagement and retention factor. But I’m firmly in that camp now. We all know employers are frustrated that employees don’t fully understand the broad range of benefits they offer.

Regardless of how well you communicate your benefit offerings to employees, they can never fully comprehend the value of the total rewards package — but take solace in this fact: When the day comes they actually have to dip their toes into the lesser-known benefits pool, they will appreciate them 10-fold.

I had the privilege of delivering my mom’s eulogy at the celebration of her life, one of the most difficult things I have done in my life. My favourite line summed up everything about her: “She was a friend to the needy, an enemy to the bully and she lived her life with a kind heart.”

I strive to be what she was, and will never forget her — and will be forever grateful to my employer for giving me the time I needed to start the healing process and surround myself with loved ones.

Todd Humber is the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. He can be reached at todd.humber@thomsonreuters.com or visit www.hrreporter.com for more information.

© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. All rights reserved.
    
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Well said!
Thursday, August 28, 2014 8:26:00 AM by G.Mackness
So true, our total benefits package is pretty awesome. And where we work, if you had needed more time off to grieve, it could have been arranged quite readily and without reprisal.
In praise of bereavement leave
Tuesday, July 22, 2014 5:37:00 PM by Candice Wilson
That is great your employer gave you the week, but in some cases a week is hardly enough time to even get through the funeral; not to mention all the paperwork if you are the executor. Employers are generally getting better but many keep to a 3 day leave for immediate family loss. Employers need to consider not only the time for the funeral but also the mental and physical toll that grief takes on an individual and the risks of having someone in the workplace who is not physiologically ready to be there. The key part of your message I think is that of the employer not putting pressure on the employee to return; each individual grieves differently and thus their needs ought to be reasonably flexible in that respect. Thank you for sharing your story.
Written from the heart
Tuesday, July 22, 2014 5:20:00 PM by Sheryl Smolkin
Beautifully written Todd. My sympathies on your loss.I'm sure your Mom heard every word you said and was very proud of you.
My condolances
Tuesday, July 22, 2014 4:42:00 PM by Madeleine Griffin
Dear Todd, I am so sorry to hear of your Mom's passing. I know what it's like to think your parent will live forever, ignoring what your brain is telling you. Been there! I am sure your eulogy was a great testament to your mother's life. Very good insight on bereavement policies; you hope you never need it but when you do, you are so glad for it. It's a fantastic benefit.