Facebook’s generous bereavement plan is a positive step during an unhappy time in employees’ lives.
Last week, Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg announced the company is doubling the available bereavement time from 10 to 20 days for an immediate family member. Employees will have 10 days bereavement for extended family.
Sandberg herself experienced the grief of the loss of her husband in 2015 when he died suddenly at age 47. By allowing such leave, Facebook shows support and compassion for employees. While this benefit can potentially be costly to employers, showing empathy can lead to employee retention and appreciation for the sympathy of the company. Ellen Galinsky, president, and co-founder of the Families and Work Institute states,
“If you feel like your company is there for you in a really hard time, it means the world. Employees think: ‘I try to be there for them when they need me. Are they there for me when I need them?’”.
However, Peter Wilson, an HR professional, says that a policy such as this could leave other companies uncompetitive and put unsustainable pressure on other annual leave plans.
In the U.S., the Fair Labor Standards Act does not require employers to offer a bereavement period or even have to allow paid time off to attend a relative’s funeral. However, 60% of workers and 71% of full-time workers are allowed paid time off for mourning. Normally the time is limited – generally 3-5 days off for immediate family and 1 day for an extended family.
Sandberg took 10 days leave in 2015 following her spouse’s death and at the time wrote on her Facebook profile saying that
“Starting the transition back to work has been a savior, a chance to feel useful and connected”.
It is this very idea that points out longer bereavement may not necessarily mean a less taxing mourning period for the bereaved.
“I remember sitting in my first Facebook meeting in a deep, deep haze. All I could think was, ‘What is everyone talking about and how could this possibly matter?’ But then I got drawn into the discussion and for a second — a brief split second — I forgot about death. That brief second helped me see that there were other things in my life that were not awful.”
Getting back to work may help bring normality to mourners, although the case will be different for each individual.
Ultimately, an extended and flexible bereavement policy shows sympathy and a ‘human-ness’ in businesses towards employees, but it is up to the person to take the appropriate amount of time for themselves to mourn and recover. Facebook’s policy encourages the employee to the take time if they will find it helpful, but also to think about the value of returning to a normal life through their career.