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Employers need to re-consider their compassionate leave policies

It’s time to get serious about your compassionate leave policy.

The world of work has changed dramatically in the last decade or so: striking a good balance between professional and private life is now of the upmost importance for most people. This means businesses shouldn’t need to ask when they should consider being compassionate about leave policy, but rather why they should ensure their annual leave allowance goes over and above minimum legal requirements to allow for flexibility to cover an unexpected employee absence, along with compassionate leave.

Of course, not every company is in a position to offer what Facebook did back in 2017, when employees were told they could take up to 20 days of paid compassionate leave. A costly move, but (in our opinion) the right move, effectively doubling the company’s old policy. It’s also another instance in which big tech set a benchmark for how to manage staff, and specifically manage leave. While this may be unaffordable for many firms it signposts HR and management in the right direction to create their own policies.

Nobody should be indirectly punished through loss of earnings when the worst happens. And bereavement isn’t the only situation that can arise and force people to take some time out from their working life. What about medical appointments, which by nature may be sudden and urgent? Similarly, domestic abuse victims may need breathing space to figure out how to get out of their situation, and then take the necessary brave steps to protect themselves.

In Australia, for example, there is now a mandate for unpaid leave in the event of domestic abuse cases. We say that’s far from enough, though, given financial and economic factors are often fundamental to victims not managing to escape the horrors of their circumstances. So, if the right steps are not going to be taken on a governmental level, then it’s down to company culture to plug the gaps as much as possible— as some are already doing.

Elsewhere, UK MPs have been piling pressure on the government for some time to amend the laws surrounding parental leave to make allowances for the care of premature babies. For fathers, two weeks is statutory when any newborn arrives, but in the event of the child being born significantly earlier than the due date, that timeframe may not cover their stay in hospital. Considering there are around 60,000 premature births per year in the country, this is something which impacts on a significant number of people.

It would be nice to assume that all employers believed they had an inert responsibility to ensure annual leave, compassionate leave and any form of unexpected employee absence was managed with empathy and understanding, not just with finances and working hours in mind. This simply isn’t the case, though, as numbers need to be crunched and efficiency monitored. However, to assume that managing leave in a just and ethical way is only an act of administrative philanthropy would be wholly misguided.

The Roubler blog contains plenty of evidence to support the argument that employees should be pushed into taking their full entitlement to standard annual leave. It prevents burn out, facilitates innovation and makes them feel rewarded appropriately for their efforts – and, therefore, also valued. When unexpected stresses arise in personal lives, the negative factors that can prevent staff from performing at their optimum level are almost always heightened.

The impact of unexpected stress and trauma on work can be enormous, and so taking time out can be the only way for an employee to get find thheadspace needed to process traumatic events and get themselves back on a level playing field. Only when that is done should they consider a return to their job.

This post on Managing Absenteeism explains the correlations between a well run HR department that will take into consideration sudden changes in circumstances and staff availability, and overall business productivity.

Ultimately, then, it’s really down to where the priorities lie. It’s our opinion that these should be with the people who are responsible for the success of a business – i.e. those on the ground, in the office or whatever the workplace is. Anything else is really tantamount to mis-management.

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