Beyond Bereavement Days

Recently, I came across an article from The Society for Human Resource Management that reports the average employee is only allotted 2-4 days off after a death of a loved one. My stomach churned as I went over the sentence again, making sure I had read it correctly.

The data is from their 2016 Paid Leave in the Workplace Survey. On average, workers receive 4 days paid bereavement leave for the death of a spouse or child and 3 days for parents, siblings and domestic partners.

That doesn’t seem right, does it?

But what can we do when our company won’t budge on bereavement days, besides picking up a condolences card and passing it around the office?


Do Your Own Research

Do your own research and share it.

If you work for a small or medium sized company without an Employee Assistance Program, do your own research and spread it around. Do a Google search for Grief Support Groups near you.

I wanted employees to have access to this information all the time, so I made a list of links and posted it in the company’s Google Drive. I included TED Talks on surviving loss, a list of local bereavement coaches and a Surviving Spouse Financial Checklist.

If your company doesn’t share files often, you can create your own brochures or print-outs to leave on your desk or in the employee lounge.


Teach Your Team How to Help Each Other

Advise your employees on how to properly care for each other.  Do they know the stages of grief?  Do they know to offer specific things instead of saying “Let me know if you need anything?”


“Would it be helpful if I followed up with the people from XYZ for you?”

“Do you want me to pick up anything from the grocery store for you?”


Remind them not to ask questions that are too personal. Just because someone is showing you parts of their pain, doesn’t mean they have to share all of it.  Things like medical status and finances are extremely personal. If your coworker is sharing this information with you, it’s because of trust, not because they’re obligated to explain their grief.

Inform them of the importance of confidentiality and privacy.


Embrace I Don’t Know.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that your training, personal experience, or knowledge of your coworkers means that you know what they’re going through or what they need. 

Talking about loved ones and their grief is an important and normal part of healing. As Human Resource professionals, we care a great deal about our coworkers. When someone is showing you a soft, vulnerable side of themselves, it can be tempting to try and connect with them. Sometimes “I know how you feel,” tries to push its way out. Don’t let it.

You know how their story and how their pain makes you feel. You know how you felt when your mother passed away. But you don’t know how they feel. Even if they tell you, you’ll never know.

It’s better to tell them that you don’t know how they feel. That you don’t know what to say. That you don’t know what they’re going through. But that you want to help. Your compassion means more to your team than an attempted connection.


If you read my first article with Women of HR, you know that I’m new to the HR field and work for a small company with less than fifteen employees. There are days where I can’t count the amount of I Don’t Knows on both hands. But everyday I learn something new, and as long as that happens, I’ll know I’m doing something right.



Roepe, L. R. (2017, August 22). How to Support Employees through Grief and Loss [Blog post].

Retrieved from Society for Human Resource Management website:




About the Author

Kathleen Connolly

Kathleen is pursuing her M.S. in Human Resource Management at Stony Brook University. She is a Graduate Research Assistant in the Leadership and Creativity Lab on campus. In her spare time, she writes about work, millennial culture, and creativity.

1 Comment


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