When it comes to dealing with grief in the workplace, there are three important perspectives to consider: 1) If you are the one grieving, it’s important to determine conditions that will provide time for healing and support. 2) If you are the colleague, it’s all about understanding boundaries. 3) If you are the employer, it’s important to have a plan and resources in place. Grief can affect anyone at any given time – when a loved one passes unexpectedly or after living with a chronic illness, or when something traumatic occurs, such as the case of a mass shooting, a suicide or natural disaster. Depending on the situation and the type and depth of the loss that occurred, the person affected by grief will cope in different ways, and it’s important for employers and colleagues to support them during this time of need.
Tips for a person who is experiencing grief:
- Alert your employer and inform them about the situation.
- Discuss how much time you will need to take off to grieve and whether or not it is PTO.
- Determine what details you want to share with colleagues and consider designating a spokesperson to relay these details on your behalf.
- Consider attending grief counseling to help the healing process.
- When you resume work, be sure to take frequent breaks throughout the day. You will be feeling a range of emotions and may be on the verge of tears at any moment. Grief can be triggered by anything – songs, scents, sounds, memories, and more. Designate a safe place for breaks, a place where you can clear your mind or cry. Try therapeutic exercises such as deep breathing, going for a walk, listening to music, or simply letting yourself cry. If you wear makeup, bring extra supplies with you in case you do tear up.
- Understand that you are not going to perform at your usual level of performance and work with your boss to figure out upcoming deadlines and who can help support your responsibilities.
- Determine how to communicate with people who try to offer unsolicited advice. You could say something like, “I am fine and I have everything I need to work through this. I appreciate you sharing this with me, but I don’t want to talk about this at work. Thank you for understanding and for caring about me.”
Tips for the colleagues of the person experiencing grief:
- Respect boundaries and adhere to company policies. Honor the wishes of the person who is grieving and offer condolences and support in the way they need it and the company allows it.
- Be aware of how they are feeling and how you are feeling. Check in with yourself and ask questions such as, “Will their loss affect how I relate with them?”
- Do not isolate those who are grieving. Try to maintain normalcy at the workplace.
- Be honest and clear with the person in grief. You will need to determine if the grief is going to affect deadlines and quality of work, then figure out workloads and expectations without making the person feel like they are a burden to the team.
Tips for the employer of the person experiencing grief:
- Follow company policies, but treat each situation individually. Sometimes the grieving process is quick and passes in two to three days. Other times, the employee will need a couple of weeks to mourn, especially if they are coping with the loss of a spouse or child.
- Be aware of how grief works and people’s reactions to grief. Be proactive and have a plan in place should grief affect the workplace. Attend a workshop on how to deal with grief in the workplace and have a list of resources featuring recommended counselors, grief support groups and more on hand. If the incident causing the grief occurred at the workplace, such as the case of mass shooting, bring counselors into the workplace. Consider offering an Employee Assistance Program.
- Frequently check in with the employee to see how they are doing. Discuss expectations and ways in which you can support them as they grieve.
- Be compassionate and performance will increase as they begin to heal.
Coping with grief in the workplace is all about communication. Communicating feelings, expectations, responsibilities, deadlines, support and more. If managers and teams communicate, those grieving can work through grief at work and the team can get back on track in an environment that helps the grieving employee heal and resume normal productivity.
Valerie Sanchez is the Director of Bereavement And Integrated Therapies at Faith Presbyterian Hospice.