Three Days for Death (or Why HR Policies Make No Sense)

Sometimes, bereavement policies put together by HR make little sense. (Photo by istockphoto.com).

Editor’s Note: This week, TLNT is counting down the most popular posts of 2010. This is No. 17 in our Top 25. We’ll continue to do this through New Year’s Eve. Our regular content will return on Monday January 3, 2011.

This past week a member of my husband’s team suffered a devastating loss: his one-year-old daughter died, which sent my husband — his manager — looking into the company’s bereavement policy.

It was three days.

Three to five days is standard, so this isn’t a knock against his company. This is a knock against blanket HR policies which don’t get discussed much (by those outside of HR) until, that is, you come slamming up against one of them.

Play it out: what parent would be worth anything after only three days? What company would want to ask a parent to return after only three days? (Yes, I know people can use their PTO bank — tell me that drastically changes the situation.)

Here’s a talented, committed individual dealing with an unforeseen and isolated crisis. The policy, which looked great on paper, is now nonsensical and soulless.

Sure, HR policies are designed so everything’s buttoned up, fair, and focused on keeping the machine moving, but in application … ?

In reality, they’re a slippery slope that:

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  • Drives a wedge between talented, committed employees and the company that wants to keep them;
  • Which translates into countless hours spent by managers, managers’ managers, and HR devising workarounds for key players;
  • Which in itself translates into bad feelings among co-workers who don’t get the same treatment — after all, there’s a policy!

Employees need empathy and support. Managers need guidelines and freedom to manage.

And companies? They need to get real.

Note: My husband’s company did arrange for more time off, a humane gesture that will come back to them in spades.

This article was originally published on Fran Melmed’s free-range communication blog.

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