Changing the conversation on paid bereavement policy

C.P.J. Field, the UK’s oldest funeral directors, recently launched the #PaidLeaveToGrieve campaign, encouraging all UK employers to offer a flexible paid bereavement policy to its staff. Jeremy Field OBE, managing director of C.P.J. Field, discusses the campaign with Funeral Service Times.

What is your role at C.P.J. Field and what is your history in the business?

I am the managing director of C.P.J Field, a 10th generation family business that I lead alongside my siblings Emily and Charlie. The three of us together with our parents, Colin and Christine, make up the family board and own the company.

The C.P.J. Field story began on the South Bank of the River Thames at Southwark, where the Field family’s business made its first coffin in 1690. Together with their colleagues, the Field family has supported thousands of families in their time of need ever since, having conducted over one million funerals to date. C.P.J. Field’s history includes managing the funerals for Queen Victoria and the Duke of Wellington. 

In 2005, my siblings and I acquired our part of the company, carrying the family business into the 10th generation. I was the first of the three of us to join the management team in 2005, followed by Charlie Field in 2008 and Emily Hendin (neé Field) in 2009.

What is the #PaidLeaveToGrieve campaign?

C.P.J. Field’s #PaidLeaveToGrieve campaign is rooted around the insight that there is currently no official bereavement policy for workers in the UK. It’s completely down to an employer’s discretion how long they’re willing to give an employee off work to grieve; whether that’s two days or two weeks, paid or unpaid. 

We are petitioning for all parties to add an amendment bill asking employers to offer flexible, two-week paid leave after the death of a family member, spouse, or partner (including pre-grief) to their 2024 manifesto. We have also created some useful tools for UK employers to put this policy in place for themselves, which are available from the C.P.J. Field website. 

We’d like to see more companies have formal bereavement leave policies in place, so we’re also asking employers to take the lead by implementing their own bereavement policies, even before the government brings our desired statutory arrangement into being.

What inspired the creation of the campaign and why is it important?

We had an idea that this was an issue for many people, so commissioned some formal research into this important issue. C.P.J. Field’s research found that 77% of people have experienced bereavement. Nearly three quarters (74%) of Brits believe there should be an official paid bereavement policy. 

 Many companies support staff, but, without an official bereavement policy in place, it leaves the employee in the lurch. It’s not something people think will happen until it does, and they are forced straight back to work to support themselves and their families, when really, the best thing to do is to process the grief in your own time.

Through C.P.J. Field’s “extensive experience” of supporting families following the death of a loved one and beyond, we understand that just as no two lives are the same, neither are two people’s experience of grief. A flexible paid leave to grieve policy enables people to use the time they need to grieve which might not necessarily be straight after the funeral, but six-months down the line or on specific anniversaries.

What does the #PaidLeaveToGrieve campaign hope to achieve, and how will the campaign help the cause?

Our aim is to help everyone experiencing bereavement as we urge all UK companies to review their policies and consider all requests for compassionate paid leave to grieve. 

We would like to see the UK align with other European and worldwide countries and ask all parties to table an amendment bill to offer flexible paid leave on the death of a family member, spouse or partner, including options for pre-grief. 

C.P.J Field’s #PaidLeaveToGrieve campaign opens up the conversation around grief and bereavement, and our employee pack provides employers with the necessary information to make changes to their HR policies.  

What support should employers put in place for employees suffering bereavement?

Employers should encourage employees to seek support in and out of work by urging their leaders and managers to create an environment where their co-workers feel they can talk about the impact their grief is having on them. Reminding them that, if you really want to know, you’ll often have to ask someone at least twice to get an honest answer on how they’re doing or feeling.

Fine is more likely to mean “you’re kind to enquire but you really don’t want to know”, rather than give an indication as to how they really are. Having a member of the team trained in supporting colleagues with grief so that they know who to contact and then having a good Employee Assistance Programme in place can provide targeted and relevant support. 

How would paid bereavement leave also help the funeral industry? Would it help improve the level of quality of service?

It’s a truth we often overlook that on many occasions, families visiting a funeral home to arrange a funeral or even attending a funeral may have to take the time off to do so as holiday. Time is the most valuable commodity we have and taking the time to talk about the person who has died and plan a funeral that is meaningful and relevant is so important. To feel that the time you give to the funeral arrangements will come at the cost of the time you would have to spend away from work with those nearest and dearest to you.  

More time to talk and plan has to improve the experience of the family and those around them. In days when so many are turning to direct cremation often because the value of the funeral gathering and ceremony has been lost, it feels more important than ever to have the time to do a great job for the bereaved.

How will appropriate bereavement leave support increased productivity for the UK economy?

It is estimated employees coming to terms with a bereavement cost the UK economy £23bn a year through reduced tax revenue and increased use of NHS and social care services. Investing in appropriate bereavement leave and support could lead to a significant long-term saving for the UK economy through reduced absence and increased productivity.

We all know that it’s hard to function when you’ve experienced the death of someone close. Concentration levels slip, your energy levels are low, and that’s before you get into all of the admin that a death creates. Time away from work to focus on this and how you feel is likely to have productivity benefits. It also helps your team to feel valued and appreciated to be invested in like this.

What can people and the wider funeral industry do to help the cause?

Spread the word about #PaidLeaveToGrieve and sign the #PaidLeaveToGrieve petition via the C.P.J. Field website: http://www.cpjfield.co.uk/Paid-Leave-To-Grieve.

Engage with the content we’re sharing on social media. Now seems like a great moment to get our politicians engaged with something straightforward that puts the needs of other people first.

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