How To Advocate For Pet Bereavement Leave In The Workplace

When a loved one passes, the pain can affect every aspect of life. Everyday tasks become difficult as grief is often all encompassing. Individuals need space and time to grieve. In the workplace, bereavement leave is common practice, and most companies have clear policies providing employees with paid days off to grieve loved ones. But what about when a pet dies? Pet bereavement is still a relatively new concept for businesses, but more companies are adding the policy.

Many pet owners treat their pets as family members. In fact, a survey found that 66 percent of pet owners admit to taking better care of their pets than themselves. Taking care of pets has a positive affect on pet owners in that it actively encourages us to take better care of ourselves, results show.

Pets love unconditionally and often become their owner’s best friend. It makes sense that individuals need space to grieve the loss of a pet, just as they grieve the loss of a family member. However, most companies do not provide pet bereavement leave.

Erika Sinner, CEO of Directorie and author of “Pets Are Family,” believes just that: pets truly are members of the household. Armed with that belief, she strives to normalize grief when a pet dies, specifically within the workplace. Sinner takes it a step further, providing pet bereavement leave for all of her employees. An expert on normalizing grief in the workplace, she recognizes that employees might need to talk about the loss of their pets and need space to grieve. 

With more and more people choosing to forego traditional parenthood in favor of pet ownership, pet bereavement leave is especially needed. Sinner shares her expert advice for those seeking an official pet bereavement leave policy from their employers. 

Why Pet Bereavement Leave?

Grief is not limited to human loss. Research shows that over half (53%) of American pet owners agree that their soulmate is their pet. So, with this in mind, the loss of a pet may equate to the loss of a soulmate. Yet, this type of grief is not talked about or normalized. An official pet bereavement leave policy can mitigate the shame individuals might feel about asking for time off when a pet passes, and promote a work culture that is empathetic and values vulnerability.

This is the core of Sinner’s message. Why is an official pet bereavement leave policy necessary? After the passing of her fur baby Kingston, Sinner explains, “I can’t imagine the weight it must feel like if you were an employee and you were hurting, and it is not in black and white anywhere that you can even take a single day to just breathe.”

tabby cat touching person's palm
A cat and owner touching hand and paw (Photo by Jonas Vincent on Unsplash)

How To Advocate: Present The Facts

Advocating for pet bereavement leave in the workplace can be challenging, but there are definitely steps you can take to increase its chances of implementation. Here are some ideas:

Before starting:

  • Do your research: Understand your company’s existing leave policies and research other companies that offer pet bereavement leave. This will help you build a stronger case.
  • Gauge employee sentiment: Talk to colleagues discreetly to assess their interest in pet bereavement leave. This can help you show management that there’s broader support for the initiative beyond your own opinion.

The belief that pets are family is widespread. This type of grief is not limited to a handful of individuals. Sinner’s website has a guide with facts about why pet bereavement leave is important, emails to send, and FAQs. She believes that presenting the facts is important.  

Furthermore, she says, “the younger generations are choosing not to have kids more and more these days and the pet market is now a 26 billion industry outside of dog food. This is like clothes and accessories and water parks for pets.” 

Making your case:

  • Start small: You might not succeed in getting a full day of leave initially. Consider proposing a shorter duration, like half a day or a few paid hours, as a starting point.
  • Highlight the benefits: Explain how pet bereavement leave can benefit both employees and the company. For employees, it can improve morale, reduce stress, and lead to faster productivity upon return. For the company, it can boost employee satisfaction, loyalty, and attract top talent.
  • Offer flexible options: Suggest alternative solutions like remote work flexibility or bereavement counseling resources alongside leave options.
  • Personalize your request: Share your own story about losing a pet and its impact on your well-being to connect with management on an emotional level.
  • Gather support: Partner with colleagues who share your sentiment and present a united front to management.
  • Be respectful and persistent: Remain professional and understanding, even if your initial request is denied. Express your willingness to discuss alternative solutions and follow up periodically.

Remember, change takes time. Sinner gives a possible example of how to communicate the idea with higher ups:

“This could be something really cool that shows your employees that you really care about them as a human being,” says Sinner. “I think even if you just said that to someone in human resources, and if you gave them the [information] at least it would just start the conversation.”

In her new book, “Pets Are Family,” Sinner outlines why it is important for employers to invest in the mental health of their employees, and how employees can advocate for pet bereavement leave in the workplace.

Pets are Family: It's as simple as that.
Pets are Family: It’s as simple as that. By Erika Sinner

Do you have other ideas for how to advocate for pet bereavement leave? Does your office have an official policy? Please share your ideas and experiences in the comment section below! 

For more information on the rise of pet bereavement, click here.

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