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How to Help a Grieving Employee

Updated on March 17, 2013
ChrisMcDade8 profile image

Christine McDade is a Human Resources professional (PHR & SHRM-CP) with over 20 years in the public sector.

When an employee is dealing with the passing of a loved one, it is important to offer support during this difficult time.
When an employee is dealing with the passing of a loved one, it is important to offer support during this difficult time. | Source

One of the most sensitive situations a manager may deal with in the workplace is assisting an employee who is grieving over the loss of a loved one. While most employers allow for time off, such as bereavement time, it is very typical for an employee to go through a lot of emotions that prevent him/her from going back to the routine of a job. Emotions and feelings associated with grief often take control of an employee's actions during this difficult time. While some believe that death of a loved one is strictly a private matter, employers assist the employee during the grieving process to help them through this catastrophic event. Since employees are the most important assets of the employer, it is in the best interest of both the employee and the employer that care is given to support the grieving employee.

Sometimes, grieving employees need to take time off to deal with their emotions associated with a death.
Sometimes, grieving employees need to take time off to deal with their emotions associated with a death. | Source
People often receive flowers as a gesture of support to offer condolence after the loss of a loved one.
People often receive flowers as a gesture of support to offer condolence after the loss of a loved one.
After the passing of a loved one, many employees will turn to their faith to help them through the grieving process.
After the passing of a loved one, many employees will turn to their faith to help them through the grieving process. | Source

Some Common Signs of Grieving Employees

Besides the obvious emotions of grieving that an employee may express when they return to work, there are other common signs that an employee is experiencing grief:

  • Disheveled Appearance - Employees who are feeling the effects of a loss may not give much care or attention to their appearance when they go to work. Going to work may not be something the employee is ready to do. Normal care given to the clothes he/she wears, the attention to hair and makeup, etc., becomes less important to them as they strive to return back to their position in the organization.
  • Change in Appetite and Loss of Sleep - An employee's health is often affected by a change in habits. Sleep routines and eating are often disrupted by the emotions one is experiencing due to the grieving process. A person easily wears a look that reflects a lack of sleep.
  • Showing Up Late - Simply getting to work becomes a challenge for a grieving employee. It is not uncommon for such an employee to over sleep or have trouble arriving to work on time per en organization's requirements.
  • Calling in Sick - For some employees, the issues of poor sleeping and eating habits cause an employee to call in sick. For others, the grief and depression that may follow will prevent the employee from even wanting to get out of bed in the morning. The idea of facing a day in the office may be too much for these employees to bear.
  • Missing Deadlines - Employees returning to their tasks and responsibilities after a bereavement leave may have less vigor and momentum in their work.
  • Withdrawn from Co-workers - It is not unusual for co-workers to be somewhat hesitant in how they interact with their grieving co-worker. Being afraid to say something insensitive that would bring up an uncomfortable reaction makes the interaction somewhat strained when the employee returns to work. Conversely, the grieving employee may choose to stay somewhat isolated as they process their emotions, and try to return to a sense of normalcy.
  • Inability to Stay Focused - An individual's ability to concentrate on the work entrusted to them is sometimes compromised due to the grieving process.

Grieving employees display some or several of the signs as listed above. It is very important for supervisors to recognize these signs in order to assist the employee through the grieving process.

Managers can offer needed assistance.

Employees who experience the loss of a loved one are going through a tough emotional period. After the friends and family members have moved on from the grieving employee, it may be the employer who notices how the grieving employee is doing through the grieving process. The strong emotions are hard to leave at home when the employee reports back to work from their bereavement leave. While some may feel that they are ready to return, they may later discover that they are still too heavy-hearted to spend an entire shift at work. A manager can do different things, as needed, be supportive of the employee and the difficult time he/she is going through during this period. A manager may choose to do the following:

  • Listen and Be Patient - One of the best things a leader can do is to listen to the employee who may need a little extra attention or one-on-one time with their supervisor. A supervisor should be patient with the returning employee who may need a little extra time to get back to where they were prior to being affected by a death of a loved one.
  • Modify Work Schedule - It may be prudent to offer the employee who has suffered a loss to work a modified schedule for the first week or so after the bereavement leave.
  • Refer to EAP or Grief Share Support Groups - The employee benefits from counseling of support groups. Employers who have an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) will have trained professionals at their disposal to receive employees who need support through the grief process. It is important for supervisors to contact Human Resources for assistance to help these employees. Human Resources will have the contact information needed to share with the employee in need of some help.
  • Give Extra Time Off - If the modified work schedule is not enough to help the employee, the employer should allow the employee to take a leave of absence. Since many employees will choose to call in sick because they are not physically or mentally up to the demands of their job, it is prudent to offer the employee additional time off to care for themselves and the issues that are troubling them. A few days of funeral leave or a week are certainly inadequate for an employee who has suffered a terrible loss of a loved one. Time off is needed beyond the bereavement leave to handle funeral decisions, finances, life insurance and other family matters affected by a death in the family.

Supervisors are given many challenging issues to handle while leading employees in the workplace. The sensitivity and tact required for the grieving employee must be exercised for the care of the employee. It is important to remember that employees make an organization successful. Taking extra care for their well-being in the workplace during the grieving process is paramount for both the employee and the employer.

Some Closing Thoughts...

An employee going through the grieving process needs a lot of understanding from their manager at work. Since the process of dealing with grief is not something that happens overnight, it will be important for the supervisor to exercise a lot of patience when dealing with an employee who is suffering. The pace and time for grieving is unique to everyone. While there is no magic to end the suffering for the employee, there is a calm, patient approach that should be exercised for the support of the employee. The employee who is going through the grieving process will appreciate the care and support they are given during their personal loss. Such assistance will help the employee to work through the challenges they face after their life-altering event.


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    • ChrisMcDade8 profile imageAUTHOR

      Christine McDade 

      5 years ago from Southwest Florida

      Offering condolensces would be an acceptable and, most often, an appreciated action to those experiencing a lost. It might be helpful to know that they have that support at work in addition to the support they get at home. Thanks for the comments.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 

      5 years ago from Oklahoma

      Very useful article. Personally, I always want to offer condolences, but am scared I'll say the wrong thing.

    • ChrisMcDade8 profile imageAUTHOR

      Christine McDade 

      7 years ago from Southwest Florida

      Thanks for your comments. Managers can help an employee with their support on the job. They can really make a difference to the grieving employee who is trying to move forward during the grieving process.

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 

      7 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      This is a beautiful hub. Employers need to know their role when it comes to employee needs. The more support employees get, the better they can perform. Voted up and shared.

    • ChrisMcDade8 profile imageAUTHOR

      Christine McDade 

      7 years ago from Southwest Florida

      Thanks for the comments. Having to deal with the loss of a loved one is very difficult. It helps to have a manager at work who will work with you during this period of your life. As you mentioned, sometimes, we think we are OK but the emotions sneak back up on us. There is no "one size, fits all" for the length of time for grieving. Patience is the answer here.

    • davidlivermore profile image

      David Livermore 

      7 years ago from Bakersfield, California, United States

      One of my employees was grief stricken over the loss of a loved one for a long time. Even when we thought she was over it, she wasn't, and it contributed to a lot of her issues at work. I learned a lot from it.

      Useful hub, voted up.


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