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three days for death (or why hr policies make no sense)

November 19, 2009

in life,talent

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.

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..?

they’re a slippery slope that:

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 coworkers 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.

f

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

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Hebert November 19, 2009 at 11:09 am

Why is there even a policy to start with? Any manager worth their salt would have circumvented the policy anyway – telling people he/she is on special assignment, etc. I might be able to see some sort of “guideline” when dealing with someone paid by the hour or some other arrangement tied to time. But for most salary workers this is just another roadblock to engagement.

Once again, companies treating adults like children. Netflix has a great policy for this kind of stuff- THEY DON’T – they treat people like adults and assume they will do the right thing, the smart thing first – and worry about the few who would abuse the system and handle them separately.

I do not understand – I’m sure there is an HR pro out there who can educate me as to why these types of policies exist. But I’m not getting it.

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Ben Eubanks November 19, 2009 at 11:16 am

We have policies for every conceivable circumstance. It makes me sick. But I can’t miss work, because there’s probably a policy against that, too.

I recently received a memo telling us exactly what managers were allowed to do for employees based on who died and what their relation was to the employee. Want to send flowers to the funeral? The person better have been a parent, child, or spouse, or it won’t happen.

Stupidity in action.

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fran November 19, 2009 at 11:49 am

paul, i’m with you … guidelines and dialogue. even for hourly workers, some workaround can surely be arranged in times of crisis.

ben, rob and i compared it to ad&d insurance. you get this for a leg, this for your right arm. all insanity, imho.

f

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Tammy Colson November 19, 2009 at 12:02 pm

Why do these policies exist? to manage the exceptions, of course.
Company CEO/owners feel they must “control behavior” and “people will just take advantage of the situation”

I usually come back with “how would you want to be treated in this instance?”

Occasionally, it works.

We all just need to grow up and stop trying to control behavior. Those that will take advantage will do so, whether there’s a policy in place or not. (and that includes the manager who wants to make an exception to the rule for certain folks, but not others)

Lets go back to “do the right thing” so I can stop revising handbooks because some manager gets a bee in his bonnet.

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Frank Roche November 19, 2009 at 12:09 pm

We don’t have policies. Take off when you need to. I cannot imagine a bereavement policy…your husband’s company did the right thing…and that’s wonderful.

Sorry about the loss of a young child. It must be devastating. Your husband is a very good person for watching out for the employee and helping him through the policy item.

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Steve Boese November 19, 2009 at 12:28 pm

So many of these policies I think simply exist to try and not only control employees, but also to control managers. Think about it this way, if there is no stated policy, Manager ‘A’ might be more flexible with things like bereavement, illness, kids school activities, etc. Manager ‘B’ might be very old-school and ‘by the book’. Once employees see that Manager ‘A’ is a real person, they all will want to work for him/her. And so companies, rather than try to instill a common-sense, human approach to this, find it easier to enact a policy, so that no discretion and interpretations are necessary by line managers. Great idea, protect and prop-up weak managers at the expense of the good ones, and the employees that are ultimately affected by this narrow thinking.

Great post once again, Fran.

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fran November 19, 2009 at 12:38 pm

tammy, “do the right thing.” so simple, right?

frank, ifractal and yikes..two local businesses i love for their smarts and generous spirit. oh, and my husband’s amazing. 😉

steve, another great reason to drop the policies…

f

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Greg Matthews November 19, 2009 at 12:50 pm

At the risk of being a Philistine, I am going to play devil’s advocate here. I work for a company that employs almost 30,000 people.

While 99.7% of the folks employed here work in good faith, that .3% represents 900 employees who are going to do everything possible to skew the game in their favor. Without some kind of policy backing, this puts a lot of pressure on managers to make “fair decisions” – and I think that we can all agree that every person may have a different definition of what’s fair.

Now, I will admit that the bereavement discussion doesn’t work as well with this argument as taking sick days, for example … because it would be easy to counterargue that only a tiny percentage of those 900 “bad-intent” employees will have a death in their family at any given time.

But the principal behind the policy raises, in my mind, legitimate questions. In a small company (or community, or any other social group) it makes sense to rely on the honor of individuals. But the chances of having dishonorable individuals goes up the larger a community gets … and dealing with those dishonorable individuals can take a massive amount of time from their managers and from their HR departments.

Believe me, I am not an advocate of managing to the lowest common denominator. In reality, I agree with and support every comment on this board. I just wanted to recognize that it’s not easy for companies – especially big ones – to actually live out those principles.

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Tammy Colson November 19, 2009 at 12:52 pm

Fran,

Although…. “do the right thing” doesn’t pay the bills. ~grin~
I’d love to HAVE to find a new way of generating income.

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fran November 19, 2009 at 2:32 pm

greg, i love anyone who’s willing to play devil’s advocate. it’s my favorite role! however…i’m not sure i agree that migrating toward gray is harder for big companies. (though the recent brouhaha over at AA is a great example of the lack of flexibility in bigger orgs. read this if you don’t know what i’m referring to: http://www.hrcapitalist.com/2009/11/you-want-to-talk-about-our-infighting-and-politics-youre-fired-a-cautionary-tale.html.) let’s say for argument’s sake that it is, that still leaves the question should we really manage to what you identify as the .3%? i personally don’t think so.

f

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Tim Sackett November 19, 2009 at 2:37 pm

Fran –

I’m with you – stop writing policies for the employees/managers who will take advantage – write policies for your top performers for what the right thing would be. For those who take advantage and want to take bereavement leave because their best friends, sisters cat died – well, you need to manage them off the bus.

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Victorio November 19, 2009 at 3:39 pm

My thoughts and prayers go out to your husband’s colleague and his family.

Great comments one and all. Here are a few of my thoughts:

1. The company’s culture (size, employee make-up, industry, etc.) will determine its policies and how it chooses to enforces them. All policies and procedures flow from that.

2. Companies are in the business of making money. Employees that are not at work are not driving the business. That’s the traditional way of viewing ones workforce; this is one reason why most people still travel to a work location even though their job can oftentimes be accomplished at home or elsewhere.

3. Companies HATE lawsuits. Rigid policies are put into place so that employers can show that they’re treating their employees consistently and fairly (at least on paper). Litigation sucks and it, along with overly complicated government regulation, makes enacting restrictive policies the lesser of 2 evils.

Correcting this isn’t going to be easy, but it does need to happen.

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Rachel Happe November 19, 2009 at 5:07 pm

This is a really interesting discussion. I’ve been on both sides of this fence. As a young 20-something with a father dying, my consulting firm had me traveling around the world 4 days a week. The week he died, the whole company was at a retreat that I missed. There was no acknowledgment from my boss or anyone else and I took it as vacation. They would have paid for me to go to business school – I moved on without regret.

As a manager, I’ve had to deal with an open-ended vacation policy and with employees from two different companies merged into one. One of my employees expected to have six weeks of vacation – taken in one large dose over the summer. I didn’t really think this was fair and equitable but struggled with it because there was no explicit policy or even guidelines about seniority and vacation. He was not a bad employee in any other way… just wanted a lot of vacation.

Tough on both ends.

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Ellen Rossano November 19, 2009 at 5:15 pm

I am cringing…In late Dec.1992, my grandmother and an aunt died within a week of each other. After taking a couple of days off for both funerals (the second one was the week between Christmas and New Year’s) I got a memo from my boss with an additional hand-written note demanding that in the future, I get all requests for days off for funerals approved in writing, IN ADVANCE! I saw him this past week for the first time in since 1993, and the thought of that still made me ill.
I’m glad your husband’s company was able to work it out.

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fran November 20, 2009 at 4:00 pm

victorio, ooh, i cringe at the “employees not at work are not driving the business.” a major pet peeve of mine, that mindset.

rachel, i think we’ll always need guidelines. but aren’t performance expectations kind of those?

ellen, that takes the cake. i’m sure getting approval in writing would be top of someone’s to-do list.

f

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Kensington January 13, 2012 at 12:15 am

My company has a very strict attendance policy. Employees are charged a point for being more than a minute late to work, or back from lunch or a break, charged two points for missing a day of work, which doubles to four points on Monday. If one reaches 10 points, then one is subject to disciplinary action. There are no excuses for not coming to work.

Companies require their employees to be at work, and on time. There are no excuses.

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fran January 13, 2012 at 10:12 am

kensington, thanks for sharing your perspective. do you not see some negative fallout from people being expected to be there when they are sick, when they’re caretaking someone else who’s sick, when someone passes and they want to pay their respect? providing time off in specific situations benefits the company as it can protect the spread of illness, build good will and ensure people doing their work are more than just present.

f

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