Everyone experiences grief differently. When a coworker is grieving the loss of a loved one, the impact to the workplace may be substantial.
Office mates share a unique connection with its own type of intimacy; close colleagues may feel like extended family. Depending on the relationship, there are many appropriate ways to support a grieving coworker.
Understand the Loss
It’s helpful to first understand that many kinds of loss can impair a person’s work performance, including:
- Death of parent, child, family member, friend or colleague
- Infertility, miscarriage or stillbirth
- Death of a pet
- Diagnosis of serious illness
- Recognize Grief
Grief is a normal, healthy response after a traumatic loss that results in physical, emotional, psychological and social reactions. Anger, fear, frustration, loneliness and guilt are all part of the natural grief process.
Grieving people also experience sadness, confusion and isolation. Grief may seem overwhelming and make it challenging to concentrate on work for some time after a loss. Coworkers may be unable to sufficiently process their grief before they must return to their normal work routine.
How to Help
An important first step to aid a grieving coworker’s return to work is to provide an environment that is supportive. It is helpful to acknowledges the loss and support their healing and recovery. Ways to help include:
Recognize the loss. Distribute a card for office staff to sign. If you share a close relationship, send a personal note or card. Email provides a less personal way to express condolences.
- Contribute to a group offering to show unified support. Gifts of flowers, food or home care are especially appreciated.
- If appropriate, gather a group of colleagues to make a condolence visit or attend the funeral service.
- Understand that people grieve differently. Some find work to be a comfort, for others it may be a challenge or burden.
- Connect personally. A simple sincere expression like, “I’m sorry for your loss,” conveys compassion and concern.
- Respect the grieving person’s privacy. Honor closed doors and silence in conversation.
- Listen to their personal grief expressions and stories away from the office, if possible.
- Offer specific help on work-related projects. If appropriate, offer to cook a meal, care for children or pets, or help with shopping or errands.
- Accommodate personal appointments and brief periods away from the office.
- Accept less than their top performance for a few weeks, then expect them to return to their best over time.
- Treat your coworker gracefully, respectfully and normally. Allow them to carry on with life at their own pace.
Provide a supportive, compassionate work environment where a grieving colleague feels cared for and encouraged. This type environment that will help them heal and recover after experiencing a loss.