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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 or visit for more information.

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Todd Humber

Todd Humber is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. Follow him on Twitter @ToddHumber
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