Dealing with Grief in the Workplace with Care and Empathy

Dealing with Grief in the Workplace with Care and Empathy

Have you ever had to cope with the death of a co-worker? Have you supported a colleague with the loss of a spouse or the death of a child? Did your employer create a safe space for grief in the workplace? Whether you are a senior leader, the manager of a team, or an individual contributor, we all experience grief in our personal lives and need to find a way to deal with grief at work.

It is helpful for employers to take a whole-person approach to company culture. This involves a people-centered focus that factors an employee’s personal life into their ability to perform at work. Companies can offer resources and training that extend beyond the job requirements and support the whole human being, not just the employee.

HSI Brené Brown Grief Quote

Grief-Related Company Policies

The typical definition of “grief” is deep sorrow, especially that caused by someone's death. According to well-known researcher Brené Brown, “We live in a culture where people need us to move through our grief for the sake of their own comfort and grief does not have a timeline.” Grieving families are trying to cope, move on with their lives, and continue to be productive at work. So, how is your company supporting team members and making space for grief?

There are multiple ways an employer can support employees going through the grieving process:

When a close friend’s domestic partner suddenly died, I took several days of vacation to assist him with the arrangements. He was devastated and barely making it through each day much less being able to make decisions about the style of a casket, the image on the prayer card, or what songs to play at the service. Luckily my employer allowed me the flexibility to take PTO on short notice so I could support my friend and sit with my own grief.

A coworker shared the story with a previous employer when her father was diagnosed with cancer. In the months leading up to his death, she used PTO to take him to his radiation treatment. Every day she was processing her grief while trying to live her life and continue working in her job. She told me how she had to call her manager to take some time out of the office because her father was dying. Her manager asked her “How do you know?” Her manager’s response was a symptom of a larger issue with the company and work culture.

Make Your Workplace Culture Safe for Grief

People experience grief for many different life changes and experiences, not just the death of a loved one. Divorce or separation, selling a home, the loss of a friendship, serious health diagnosis, and death of a pet are just a few. When my oldest nephew went away to college, my sister had a really difficult time. She said it felt like a death in the family.

Waves of sadness can hit at any time, not just during the three days of bereavement leave. No one wants to cry in the middle of a meeting. You never know what might trigger an emotional response from a grieving employee. Hopefully, you can create a supportive work environment and culture for people who have experienced significant losses.

Grief Support Training Topics

Of course, an employer’s primary focus is creating a healthy, thriving business but you also need to support healthy, thriving employees. Your employee training library can go beyond job-related and compliance courses, so people have on-demand access to content to help them through difficult times.

Many of our clients open their HSI training library to all employees for self-directed learning. This allows them to privately access videos to help them offer support to a grieving coworker or to help them work through their own grief. A few of our related courses from our Business Skills Library include:

The focus of this article was prompted by the grim milestone of six million worldwide deaths from Covid 19. My mind went to the six million grieving families all around the world and how that is affecting all of us. It’s comforting to know that some of our training content may provide relief to bereaved employees.

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