Expanded parental benefits and bereavement support go hand in hand

4 min read

Major life events create seismic changes in the people who go through them.

Knowing this, many companies are seeing the value in expanding parental benefits, offering coverage of fertility treatments, expanded leave, flexible work schedules, and part-time schedules as parents transition back from leave.

As an employee goes through this major life event, it makes sense to build policy that reflects the importance of the experience and to plan accordingly.

After all, they are welcoming a new member of the family and dealing with the urgent needs of a newborn and new parents.

What’s less recognized, however, is that the passing of a loved one is a major life event that is just as challenging.

As with birth, a death is a major change to the family structure that requires time to adjust to and absorb. And there are many urgent needs: Not only the physical, mental, and emotional toll of grief, but the time and energy required to settle a loved one’s affairs.

Loss as a major life event

In many ways recovering from the loss of a loved one is similar to other huge life events like having a child: Both can lead to sleepless nights, weight changes, and more.

For bereaved families the experience is mentally, physically, and emotionally taxing, as Empathy’s Cost of Dying Report showed.

Empathy surveyed 1,485 Americans who recently experienced a loss, and found that:

  • 93% had at least one physical or mental symptom.

  • 83% experienced anxiety, and 76% suffered from a change in their sleep patterns.

  • 30% overall found themselves significantly less productive, and 70% were concerned about their job security.

Unfortunately, employees who have suffered a loss tend to struggle in silence because they feel an expectation to get “back to normal.”

Employees who have suffered a loss tend to struggle in silence because they feel an expectation to get “back to normal.”

And this attitude—whether it is held by the employee, their manager, or their coworkers—perpetuates a misunderstanding of the natural and normal aspects of the grieving process.

Considering that U.S. companies are losing an estimated $113 billion in lost productivity each year due to grief, this presents a significant problem. When employees do not get the support they need, everyone loses.

The time crunch

Just as new parents have a bewildering set of skills to learn and decisions to make, bereaved employees are burdened with a heavy workload as they settle their loved one’s affairs.

On average, it takes 420 hours of work over 13 months, the Cost of Dying Report showed. And most of the legal, financial, and bureaucratic tasks must be done during traditional work hours, creating distractions during workdays and cutting into productivity.

Compounding the problem is, again, expectations. For most employees, these tasks are much more time-consuming than they expect them to be, with 62% saying it took longer than expected and 55% finding it to be more complex than they anticipated.

The employees who struggle the most are those who are serving as executor for their loved one’s estate, who are typically chosen for their competence and trustworthiness.

At work, executors tend to be relied upon as leaders a well, so when they are experiencing cognitive issues or having trouble with focus and productivity, for example, it can affect the whole team.

The financial strain

Before a baby arrives, there are a number of ways for friends and family to contribute financially. Baby showers and baby registries make gift-giving a priority and a tradition, during the period before they are born as well as the first months of their life.

It may sound obvious to say, but there are no showers for bereaved families. There is a funeral, which the family pays for. And while each culture has its own mourning tradition in which food and support can be offered, most people don’t understand how much families truly need, until it happens to them.

The average up-front costs for bereaved families total $12,702, Empathy’s Cost of Dying Report shows. Legally, almost all of these costs are covered with estate funds, so the family will be reimbursed when the estate’s affairs are settled. But that can take months, and in some cases, years.

The average up-front costs for bereaved families total $12,702, Empathy’s Cost of Dying Report shows.

Under the stress of serious financial strain, many employees find their work performance begins to suffer. This can lead to lower productivity, less focus, more absenteeism, and even burnout.

Conversely, an employee who has access to a salary advance, a short-term loan, or an EAF (employee assistance fund) can avoid getting into a financial emergency—and can come to work with less stress and greater peace of mind.

There are many ways to support employees going through major life events, whether they are welcoming a new family member or saying goodbye to one. The experiences go hand in hand. And when the profound importance of these experiences is honored and supported by an employer, the employee won’t soon forget it.