Paid parental leave — both maternal and paternal — has been at the heart of corporate paid-time-off (PTO) conversations for quite some time now. (See: This viral video about a woman who "stays pregnant" for five years in order to save up enough vacation days for the birth of her child.)
One equally important employee issue that gets much less attention? Paid bereavement leave, which offers employees paid time off to grieve the death of a loved one.
Facebook Leads the Charge
On February 7, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg announced that the company had updated its paid bereavement leave policy to offer employees 20 days off work following the death of an immediate family member and 10 days off work following the death of an extended family member. They can also take up to six weeks of paid leave to care for a sick relative. The new policy, which went into effect on January 1, doubles the PTO previously given to Facebook employees mourning the loss of a loved one, according to Fortune.
For Sandberg, the policy is a deeply personal one. The Facebook exec tragically lost her 47-year-old husband, Dave Goldberg, after he suffered a head injury while they were on vacation in 2015, and a forgiving bereavement leave policy is what she says allowed her to take the time she needed to grieve and start the recovery process.
In her Facebook post about the new policy, she explained:
There have been many times when I've been grateful to work at companies that supported families. When my son was born and I could take time off to focus on him. When my daughter came along and I got that time all over again. Every time one of them got sick, both my husband Dave and I had the ability to leave work to take care of them so we could decide whose turn it was to supply the patient with ginger ale. 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.
Why Taking Time Off Is a Necessary Part of the Grieving Process
To anyone who has ever lost a loved one, Facebook's new policy might seem like a no-brainer. But it's still incredibly rare for employers to offer significant time off following a death in the family: Only about 60 percent of the private sector offers paid bereavement leave, Sandberg wrote in her Facebook post, and the companies that do typically only offer their employees a few days to grieve. But not all of us feel emotionally ready to hop back into our regular routine so shortly after a family member's death — especially when the death is unexpected, as it was in Sandberg's case.
"When death hits us like a thud, taking time off is important for many purposes — coping with the reality of the loss, taking care of many 'affairs' of the person and yourself [that need to get] put in order, and just coping with the emotional overload of the loss," clinical psychologist John Mayer, PhD, told SELF.
Of course, the grieving process — and how long it takes — varies from person to person, but even just giving an employee the option to take more time off to grieve could not only help them mourn and heal, but also boost company morale and employee loyalty, Sandberg wrote. Because regardless of how long it takes a person to get back into her regular routine, living life after the loss of a loved one isn't something that gets easier overnight.
"You will think about and emotionally react to a loss for a long time because your loved ones live in your heart and mind forever," Dr. Mayer explained.
Here's hoping that more companies will follow Facebook's lead.