The global COVID-19 pandemic brought renewed attention to grief and bereavement in the workplace. The estimated annual cost of death-related grief to organizations is almost $45 billion. The dual workplace focus on efficiency and productivity, coupled with societal discomfort around death, can make returning to work difficult for bereaved employees. Part of the challenge of workplace bereavement is the empathy-efficiency paradox – the perception that workplace goals often conflict with the needs of grieving employees. Business temporal norms manifest in short bereavement leaves (generally, 1-5 days) that send the message that employees should recover quickly and return to work – which inadvertently promotes presenteeism rather than productivity. This conceptual paper suggests future research directions and provides specific tips for how organizations can better accommodate bereaved employees. These include:

  • Offering longer and more flexible bereavement leaves
  • Applying policies more flexibly to adjust to individuals’ unique circumstances
  • Defining ‘immediate family’ more broadly than a nuclear family
  • Establishing just-in-time workplace training for managers and coworkers
  • Providing informal support in terms of practical support (e.g., condolence cards and/or flowers; meal support or gift cards; tax attorney referrals; managing the return to work; employee-donated leave bank) and informational support (e.g., organizational policies on flexible work arrangements or reduced workload, counseling or EAP services)
  • Recognizing cultural and country differences in bereavement norms and responding with appropriate and culturally-sensitive policies

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