A colleague once told me that the best thing about their former employer was that they offered unlimited bereavement leave. This made me think. Someone close to you has to die before they become a good employer? That’s pretty sad.
I’m not sure unlimited leave is the answer, but no doubt there was some sympathetic intent behind the policy. A recognition that grief is a very personal thing. I like the fluidness of this in contrast to the rigid lists of the number of days you’re allowed in proportion to how close you were to the person who’s passed away. I’m sure those lists are unnecessary. You’d have to be a pretty pathetic person to use death as an excuse just to score a few days off work.
Death is something that many adults have had to cope with, and yet it’s little talked about. I’m not unique in having lived through the terminal diagnosis, deterioration and then death of a parent. Yet even with that experience behind me, knowing that bottling feelings up was the worst thing to do, talking about death is awkward. I think it’s a cultural taboo and therefore difficult to break.
That’s why I find Acas’ New bereavement guidance quite refreshing, even though it’s written in their traditional style. It forces grief out in the open and reminds us there’s no shame in it. It recognises one thing that I’m sure no existing policy does – that grief continues a long time after the event.
However there is a key thing in the guidance I disagree with – that grief does not have predicted stages and phases. When my mother died I was given some information about the 5 stages of grief. I didn’t pay much attention at the time but looking back a few years later I realised I was a textbook case. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – I’d experienced them all. I think just spelling out those feelings as normal was helpful, and the guidance is lacking without them.
However, hidden amongst the wordy pages is the perfect description of grief – adjusting to life without the person who is lost. It’s about closing a gaping hole left by a loved one and finding a new normal. I think we’ve always recognised that work is an important part of finding that place, but we need to change attitudes towards talking about death and grief openly. Hopefully Acas has got the ball rolling on that.
Download the guidance here