Last week, I was blasting overwrought and overwritten employee handbooks. (See "The world's shortest employee handbook.") I called attention to the Alabama A&M University personnel manual and its bereavement-leave policy in particular. The bereavement policy is robotically impersonal. Imagine being a valued member of the A&M faculty or staff, losing a family member, and then having to parse this:
Staff members shall, upon request, be granted up to three (3) days annually of bereavement leave for the death of a parent, spouse, child, brother or sister, grand parents [sic], grand parents-in-law, grandchild, son or daughter-in-law, mother-in law, father-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, step children, children-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and first and second cousins. Other relationships are excluded unless there is a guardian relationship. Such leave is non-accumulative, and the total amount of bereavement leave will not exceed three days within any fiscal year. If additional days of absences are necessary, employees may request sick or annual leave, after providing an explanation of extenuating circumstances.
Now compare this sterile handling of employee-family death to the following tale from Brian McGrory's column in last week's Boston Globe. McGrory writes about a man named Jack Pichnarcik, whose 16-year-old son Mark died of leukemia. McGrory then writes about how the man's boss, trucking-parts-company owner Brian Pomerleau, treated his employee:
When Mark went into the hospital last November, Pomerleau told Jack to go be with his son, however long it was, and rest assured he wouldn't miss a day of pay.
He slipped Jack a couple of thousand extra dollars here and there over the next few months.
On the eve of Mark's death, Pomerleau quietly picked out a cemetery plot and made all the funeral arrangements himself, then headed to Boston to tell the Pichnarciks that everything was ready and funded, no questions asked or money accepted.
To me, Pomerleau shrugged it off, saying, "Hey, I made a few extra dollars in my life, so it's always nice to help someone you know."
This is the right way to be a boss. If employers acted more like Brian Pomerleau than like the handbook drones of Alabama A&M, they would attract better talent, and their companies would be more successful. Corporate bean counters who obsess over whether a bereaved employee took a day too many or lost a relative too distant should rethink their careers and find work that keeps them away from people.
Brian McGrory's complete column, called "Final Say," is here. Its title refers to the column's being his last, as the Globe has named Brian its news editor. Congratulations, Brian, and keep up the fine work.