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Extend your grief benefits beyond simple bereavement leave

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in Employee Benefits Program,HR Management,Human Resources

Your organization probably allows grieving employees to take a few paid days off when a family member dies. But employees who lose loved ones are unlikely to return to normal in just a few days.

That's why more employers are turning to organized grief-recovery programs to help grieving employees work through their pain. Some examples:

  • Universal Studios paid for an employee to become a certified grief counselor through the Grief Recovery Institute. He conducts afterhours group counseling for fellow employees. The company put an extra phone line in his office for calls from grieving workers.
  • Instead of sending flowers to funerals, some supervisors at Pitney Bowes and PricewaterhouseCoopers send a book on grief recovery to employees who lose family members.
  • The SAS Institute in Cary, N.C., employs a social worker who counsels employees who lose loved ones. The counselors also provide information on community resources, offer books on recovery from the firm's lending library and advise an employee's manager about what to expect as the employee recovers.

What if an employee dies?

As devastating as the loss of an employee's loved one can be, the death of a co-worker can throw a whole organization off kilter.

For that reason, the University of California at Berkeley created "The Guidelines for Responding to Death" Web site (http://death-response. chance.berkeley.edu) to ensure that the university responds appropriately and quickly to deaths among the school's 10,000 faculty and staff.

Now, when a university employee dies, someone from that person's department becomes a coordinator and posts a death report on the university Web site. The site e-mails death notifications to affected departments.

The coordinator also makes sure the deceased's family receives condolences from the university and that someone attends the memorial service. That person also oversees computer accounts, the final paycheck, office keys and personal belongings.

Properly handling an employee's death, says Carol Hoffman, the university's work/life manager, "helps survivors grieve, mourn and resume productivity. It builds cohesive teams, loyalty to the employer, and, in a practical sense, it's an efficient process that minimizes time."

When an employee at the SAS Institute dies, a staff social worker convenes a "grief group" so co-workers can come together for support and to ask questions.

"They want to talk about hard things like the replacement of this person, who's going to do the work and what to do about his office," says Laura Wallace, manager of SAS's work/life and employee assistance program.

Resources: Some employers give grieving workers free books to help them cope. Good titles include The Healing Journey Through Grief, by Phil Rich; The Grief Recovery Handbook, by John James and Russell Friedman; and Healing Grief at Work: 100 Practical Ideas for a Workplace Touched by Loss, by Alan D. Wolfelt.  

For a sample Bereavement Leave policy from HR Specialist, click here.

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