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Grief in the Workplace

When I started writing about grief in the workplace, after the first few paragraphs, I realized it sounded like a lot of other articles and maybe did not say what I really wanted it to say. What do I want to say? “Grief Happens!” It happens whether we are at school, work, or home and it is on each of us as individuals and organizations to help create a world in which it is OK to grieve (Kate’s Club’s vision by the way).

Approximately 2.8 million deaths occur in the U.S. every year and with each death multiple people are touched by grief (a spouse, a child, a parent, sibling, or friend). At times, the workplace may be grieving one of their own. That means millions of people are grieving at any given time and many are working. Grief is in the workplace. However, the workplace is often unprepared to recognize and support grievers both in the immediate aftermath of a death and long-term.

Creating structure and relationships to support employees can go a long way in creating an empathetic and compassionate environment which makes for an engaged, loyal, and overall better workforce.

How to Support a Bereaved Employee/Co-worker

  • Designate someone to communicate directly with the person or family in the days following the death. This way the bereaved is not having to answer different people multiple times.
  • Decide on how to support the family. Some ideas include:
    • Organize a meal train for the family
    • Donate to a charity in honor of the deceased
    • Collect donations to go directly to the family, if it is needed
    • Go to the funeral if it is local and open to everyone
    • Adjust the office’s work flow so that the bereaved employee’s work is covered for as long as needed
    • Definitely send a card signed by everyone
  • When the bereaved employee returns to work, know that it may take a while to get back to a normal work load. Do not judge them on a specific timeline or think they are using their grief as an “excuse” to get out of work. They literally may be using every ounce of their energy to function every day. On the other hand, they may use work as a distraction and become very productive. Do not take this as “they are over it” or that they are not grieving. Again, do not judge others’ grief.
  • Avoid asking questions right after they return to work. Instead of asking, “How are you doing?” just say “I am thinking of you and I am here if you want to talk.” At all cost, AVOID CLICHÉS. “’God doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle” or “They are in a better place” is rarely helpful.
  • Be available to check in and check in occasionally in the months afterward. Also know that “grief bursts” will occur.

How to Support a Grieving Workplace

Many times, a workplace is caught off guard when an employee dies. We may spend more time with our co-workers than we do with anyone else in our lives. A few things to consider:

  • Acknowledge the impact. Some coworkers may have enjoyed comradery and had a special relationship at work.
  • Remember the impact as you ask someone to immediately take over the employee’s duties. Also keep that in mind when asking someone to clean out the deceased desk at work.
  • Provide access to grief counseling for employees.
  • Offer a support group check-in and create an atmosphere where sharing memories and stories about the person who died is welcome.

In summary, let’s all be patient and kind with one another. After all, GRIEF HAPPENS!

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