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Facebook Takes Lead on Bereavement Leave

Sheryl Sandberg, right, seen in happier times with late husband, Dave Goldberg.

Sheryl Sandberg, right, seen in happier times with late husband, Dave Goldberg.

A Time to Grieve

Learning a family member has died can be one of the most painful news that anyone can receive. Even when you don't get along with a particular family member, learning of their death can cause a swirl of emotions that can take months to untangle, and not every place of employment can offer more than just a few days to deal with that.

The business of death is a painful one, and beyond the bureaucratic nonsense we all end up dealing with at one point or another, there's the emotional mess. Many places of work only offer a few short days—barely enough time to make arrangements for a funeral and for said funeral to take place. The grieving process may barely have begun as you're supposed to head back to work, and you are definitely not at your best. You may find your personal fuse is far shorter than what it usually is, or that you're easily distracted. However, you can't always afford to simply take extra time to recover from the loss.

In early 2017, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and herself someone who understands the pain of losing someone all too well, announced that Facebook would step up to the plate and allow its employees extra time to navigate their own grief rather than insisting they head back to work right away after a loved one dies. Sandberg's husband and father to the couple's two small children, Dave Goldberg, passed away after a cardiac arrhythmia in 2015, plunging her and her kids into what she referred to as "the void" of grief. She'd noted that she was fortunate that Facebook had the flexibility to allow her to work and be there with and for her kids—not something that all businesses are able to offer their employees.

This isn't just a United States issue; it's something plaguing North American society. Very often, when someone close to us dies, we're expected to push through and carry on working after a mere three to five days to deal with our loss. Grief, unfortunately, doesn't work on a nice schedule; it's something that can wake us in the middle of the night with an axe kick to the chest. It sounds like a child, scared that you are going to go "just like mommy" or "just like daddy." It leaves us afraid and unsure of what to do next.

While Facebook's proposed 20 days of leave doesn't cover the length of time that everyone could need to deal with their feelings of loss, it's a significant recognition that we're not offered enough time to deal with it. While you do have to return to work at some point—resuming your normal patterns can help you recover after a loss—20 days allows you the opportunity to at least start on the road to recovering from your loss.

Many U.S. companies aren't obligated to even offer paid leave. More often than not, companies allow their workers a few scant days, if that, to deal with their personal loss and expect their return right away.

In Canada, time off for bereavement varies with each company. This time might be paid, and then again, it might not—again, that's company-dependent. How does that affect workers and in turn, the company they work for?

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Grief Is Personal: Everyone's Journey Is Different

Sandberg made it clear in her announcement that the expectation was not that people would return after their 20 days of bereavement and be ready to be at the top of their game. Rather, it would give employees a good start to re-establish routines and households following the traumatic upheaval that loss can bring.

Wouldn't it be great if employers could follow Facebook's lead and allow people the time they need to cope with their grief? At least, to learn to cope with their grief even a little before they have to return to work? An effective employee is one who feels supported by their workplace, and to be sure, longer periods for bereavement, among other leave periods, would be a great way to begin helping all employees feel more supported by their employers.

There are many people who have gone through a loss, expected or otherwise, and most would probably admit that they returned to work too soon either out of a sense of obligation (as many of us have to our various workplaces) or as a way of escape. There's also the simple fact that they need the money. While not every workplace can provide paid bereavement leave beyond the few days that some businesses do, allowing employees time beyond a few short days to begin to grieve their loss can go a long way towards helping their employees heal.

Sandberg herself acknowledged how helpful it was for her to have an environment where she knew her boss would give her the time she needed to learn to heal.

"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," Sandberg said. "I needed both to start my recovery. I know how rare that is, and I believe strongly that it shouldn't be."

Loss Is Devastating: More Support Is Needed


This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

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