How To Deal With Grief at the Workspace

How To Deal With Grief at the Workspace

Many companies lack norms or policies for dealing with grief, and some that do have policies often find they are insufficient.

Many companies lack norms or policies for dealing with grief, and some that do have policies often find they are insufficient.

Kirsty Minford, a psychotherapist who works with organizations in times of change or loss told the BBC "Many of us spend a great deal of our time with coworkers, sometimes more than we spend with our families." Thus leaders need to remember that life and work intersect. Coworkers can become some of our closest friends, making work a trigger for the pain, versus a welcome distraction from grief, explains Jennifer Moss, a workplace expert, and journalist

Many companies lack norms or policies for dealing with grief and some that do have policies often find they’re insufficient. According to Minford, they can be strict rules around what type of grief makes one eligible for leave. ‘Bereavement’ policies, as grief is referred to in HR, tend to suggest that an employee absorbs their shock, plan and execute a funeral, cope healthily with their loss, and then return to work within three days at full engagement, as Minford states.

According to the expert, grief doesn’t just come with sadness and loss it can bring feelings of guilt, anger, uncertainty, denial, regret, and so much more. These are 5 reflections Jennifer Moss proposes on how to handle the grief with empathy at the workplace.

Train Emotional Intelligence

Of the hardest parts of returning to work after a loss can be the sense of inability to talk openly about it due to a work culture of “professionalism.” Business leaders must make understanding grief part of other training sessions that employees get on emotional intelligence.

Communicate and Ask

The grieving process has ups and downs. Some days are easier and sudden emotional triggers can appear unexpectedly. Creating a culture of communication can help the grieving person feel comfortable to share their struggles and ask for support.


Despite being a sensitive topic leaders need to ask pointedly and regularly how their employees are dealing with their losses. The ideal scenario is one in which the grieving person can be open, authentic, and honest about how it feels. According to Moss “When people can be their true selves, they are more likely to manage their stress better and remain loyal to their organization.” Bosses must make sure they listen to their employees and help them develop their ideas on how to support the grieving person. Moss expresses “This will help both the person grieving and those who make up their support system to heal, recover, and feel healthy again.”

Checkpoints and Important Dates Matter

Ask how a grieving employee is doing. Birthdays, anniversaries, and Christmases can be particularly hard times for people grieving. A small gesture as bringing a bar of chocolate to the person or acknowledging they might be struggling can mean a lot. 

Policies Matter

Despite the good intentions the unstructured, “whatever you need” approach can be hard to navigate by the grieving person as they aren't sure how much time they really can take. Furthermore, some people might push themselves back to work too soon. Guiding colleagues can help them figure out how to behave sensitively around their grieving workmates. Moss states, “grief can cause people to be more disorganized, withdrawn, or anxious, and bosses can misguidedly treat these issues as performance problems” thus training bosses in grief handling is a key matter.

More Than Policies

Having sensible policies that recognize the humanity of the employee is essential but going the extra mile is always possible. Organizing memorial events like a group to share the things you'll miss about the person, a memorial book, or a donation to a cause they cared about are initiatives that can be born from employers or colleagues and have an authentic touch. Be careful not to host impersonal and cold events lead by people that didn't know the person. This can hurt friends of the deceased and feel as if it was all about an asset that the company lost.

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