How we've created a compassionate leave policy that changes the way we deal with death

We know that grief impacts people differently and we think it’s important that compassionate leave policies reflect this. We’ve put together a guide to help you to do the same for your place of work.

How we've created a compassionate leave policy that changes the way we deal with death

Every day we’re helping families through the hardest time of their lives, and we understand more than most how death can turn our worlds upside-down. We know that grief impacts people differently and we think it’s crucial that compassionate leave policies reflect this.

Our new compassionate leave policy

When someone close to a member of our team dies, we offer 10 days of additional paid leave so that they can grieve and get the support they need. We do not define “closeness” and we will not ask about their relationship to the person or what they meant to them. We’ve still got a lot more to learn around compassionate leave and this is just the beginning. We’ll keep this article updated with our learnings and any policy developments as they happen.

Our mission is to change the way the world deals with death, so we want to help other companies begin the steps to modernising their policies too.  

We've put together a guide below to help you to do the same for your place of work. This outlines our suggestions on what to think about when redefining your compassionate leave policy, with some background on how we came to ours. 

Template compassionate leave policy

We’ve created a template version of our policy, to give a framework you can use when defining a new compassionate leave policy.

Our template policy covers the reasons why someone might take compassionate leave, the reason why "closeness" isn't strictly defined and how many days your compassionate leave policy allows. 

Here's how we came to this policy, to help you define yours

Every day, we talk to people who are dealing with death - and we’ve done lots of work on the best ways to do that, thinking about the language we use, the questions we ask, the support we offer and how to follow up. 

So we wanted to share some of the things we've learnt when defining our policy, so you can think about the changes you would like to make at your place of work.

  1. Broaden the scope of your compassionate leave policy

    Right now, the only legal guidance on compassionate leave is around the death of a child or a stillbirth - but it’s still not a legal requirement for companies to follow it. Most companies that do offer compassionate leave prescribe when you can take it, based on a close familial relationship - often defined as parents, grandparents, siblings and children.

    But we know that life does not work like that. We have meaningful relationships with people who are not our immediate family - our friends, our colleagues, an extended family member or someone else. And if something happens to those people, the grief we’re experiencing might get in the way of our ability to work.

    So we’ve broadened our policy to include compassionate leave for the death of any person who is meaningful to you

    For our policy, we’ve gone beyond the usual direct relations and made it clear that if someone is important to them, they’re important to us.  And that includes pregnancy loss of any kind. We’ve also decided not to define “closeness” because it means such different things to different people. It’s up to the individual how they want to define it.

  2. Give people the time they actually need

    Death does not fit into a neatly set allowance. Someone could experience more than one death in a calendar year, and nothing for the next few.  Death does not, and should not have to, conform to a set amount of days each year.

    On average, companies in the UK offer five days of compassionate leave to their employees. We’ve expanded our compassionate leave policy to reflect the fact that life and death can be unpredictable and people don’t experience death in the same way. 

    In our new compassionate leave policy, you can take up to 10 days of paid leave for each situation.  

    We’ve also said that if the person finds they need more than 10 days off, we’ll work through it together to see how we can best support them - with more time off, a phased return to work, more flexible hours, or something else. 

    We purposely chose not to have an unlimited policy, as research shows that this can pressure people to take less time off than they need. And we have not set a minimum number of days required, because we also know that some people find it helpful to have something else to focus on when they’re grieving, so we don’t want to mandate that people have to take time off. 

    Finally, we also have not placed any limits on when those days can be taken. We know people grieve in different ways, and that funeral practices vary across different cultures.

  3. Trust your team, with no questions asked

    The burden often falls on the person, who is going through one of the hardest times of their lives, to ask permission for compassionate leave and give details as to why and what happened. 

    Our experience has taught us that some people won’t feel comfortable talking about their situation with their manager and that could result in them not taking the time they need. 

    Our compassionate leave policy lets the person decide how many or how few details they want to give their manager. 

    We trust our employees to make those decisions. 

    We’ve asked our employees to let their manager know they’ll be off and we’ve created tools so managers know how they can best support the person. These are below in case you want to use them to help your team.

  4. Think about the language you use when talking about death 

    Words and language show people what we value and believe in. The way you communicate your compassionate leave policy is crucial in making people feel supported.  No matter how modern your policy might be, if it’s written in a cold and formal way it’ll make people feel like your approach to compassionate leave is the same.

    How writing makes us feel matters a lot, especially when it comes to subjects as difficult as death. 

    By factoring language into our policy, we’re supporting our employees through what can be the most difficult time of their lives

    Here’s some tips:

    • We write in a way that’s approachable. For example, we use words like ‘start’ instead of ‘commence’, which could feel overly formal. We also use more verbs than nouns to make our writing feel natural. Instead of ‘we performed a test’, we’d use ‘we tested’.

    • We don’t use euphemisms, as this makes death feel like it’s a taboo.  For example, instead of ‘bereavement’, we’d say ‘death’.

    • We’re always empathetic in the language we use. We avoid phrases like “You must be feeling awful” and instead say things like ‘we know it can be difficult’, to show we understand what people are going through without assuming we know exactly how they’re feeling.

    For more tips and examples, head over to our full tone of voice. 

We’ve still got a long way to go

There’s still so much more we have to learn when it comes to compassionate leave. First, we’re planning on getting feedback from our team and managers on how useful the new policy is. We’ll update this guide with that feedback, and make changes to our policy based on the outcome.

We’re also hoping to build on the help we give our team members and managers when it comes to going through the process itself. We want to create tools to make going on compassionate leave as simple as it can be. This includes tools to help our team members manage their grief.

Over this year, we’re planning on broadening our policy to cover traumatic events outside of death. To do this we’ll be looking for input from experts who know more about traumatic events than we do. So watch this space for our learnings and updates to our policy.

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At Farewill we're making everything to do with death easier, friendlier and more affordable. We provide probate, wills and funerals with a difference, and so far we've helped over 60,000 families in the UK.

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