This week Facebook made news when it offered its employees more time to grieve the loss of a loved one.
Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg made this announcement on Tuesday:
“Starting today, Facebook employees will have up to 20 days paid leave to grieve an immediate family member, up to 10 days to grieve an extended family member, and will be able to take up to six weeks of paid leave to care for a sick relative. We’re also introducing paid family sick time – three days to take care of a family member with a short-term illness, like a child with the flu.”
Sandberg reflected on the loss of her own husband in the announcement:
“And then 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. I needed both to start my recovery.”
This is a step in the right direction, but is 20 days enough?
We talked with Maggie Cochran, bereavement supervisor at Hospice Austin, about just how long it takes to grieve a loved one:
“Everybody’s different,” she says. “Grief does take a long time longer than you think.”
There is a level of grief that is going to be hard, she says, whether you get three days off or three weeks off.
Losing a loved one also can come with new roles like planning a funeral, executing someone’s estate, and helping other loved ones with their grief. That can delay the time when a person is able to return to work.
Sometimes getting back to work can actually be comforting. It’s a return to the routine and a break from focusing only on the grief. It can be something to look forward to.
But often, returning to work comes with its own difficulties. Grief often affects your organizational skills, memory and concentration. “It’s like you’re operating while sick,” Cochran says.
One thing employers can do is ask their employee how they want their loss to be handled at work? Do they want to openly talk about the loss or do they not want anyone to talk about it? Co-workers often don’t know how to handle it.
Employers can also remind employees of what resources are available such as employee assistance programs and counseling available through medical insurance.
Where it makes sense, employers could offer a flexible schedule or a return to work slowly or a work from home situation to ease the employee back into the regular work day.
Cochran does know of people who have applied to take leave for mental health reasons during the grieving process, when they don’t feel ready to return.