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Grief In The Workplace

Updated: Jun 12, 2023

Originally published 20 May 2019

Two weeks ago I didn’t publish an article.  Yes I was very busy. Yes, I spent that Monday at the Pennsylvania State House and spoke at a Press Conference in support of House Bill 1404, which would offer legal protections to all LGBTQIA+ Pennsylvanians.  But I don’t write my articles on the day I publish them, I write them in advance. Often on the Friday and Saturday before publishing, because, as I said, I’m very busy.  But that weekend I was in Cumberland Maryland for my Aunt’s memorial service. And I spent much of Friday struggling to manage my emotions and plan for my departure. So, today, I’m going to address grief in the workplace.

Does your company offer Bereavement Leave?

Is it 3 days?  Does it apply to immediate family only?

Death is an inescapable fact of life.  We will all experience loss at some point.  And, so, for businesses death and grief are also inescapable facts of life.  Grief is a deeply personal journey. And yes it’s a journey. One that takes much longer than 3 to 5 days.  Employees will be working through their grief, even if the are given a few days off to attend a funeral or memorial service.   

In fact, most people won’t have time to truly begin grieving in the first days after a loss.  They are often busy planning the services, planning travel, calling family and friends. And so there’s no time for them to begin processing their feelings.

Grief-related losses in productivity may cost US companies as much as $75 billion annually.

“Paradoxically, offering employees more time to deal with their grief—through longer bereavement leave, reduced hours and flexible schedules—could wind up costing organizations less.” – Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg

If your company has policies and procedures in place to ensure that the work gets done while also providing employees with the time and compassion they need to grieve, you can maintain productivity and retain your valuable employees.

Do  you know how to recognize grief in the workplace?

  • Fatigue

  • Low morale

  • Inability to Concentrate

  • Expressing Anger

  • Lack of Motivation

  • Depression

All of these things can impact an employee’s performance and productivity. Not to mention the potential to have a negative impact on a team as a whole.  It can be difficult to navigate this period. Your company has rules and policies that need to followed after all.

When you have a grieving employee you need to keep in mind that everyone will experience grief differently. Telling someone they need to “move on” or “snap out of it” is never helpful.  Consider, instead, how you can support your employee and their family. Find out what they need and figure out how to help them with that.

Maybe they need a little extra time to manage an estate or seek counseling.  Maybe they need a little financial support. Perhaps they need some space or time throughout the day to to have some quiet time to regather themselves.  Don’t just assume that a grieving employee needs or wants to lighten their workload. Some people need daily routine to keep them from allowing grief to completely consume them.

Grief can be a very private thing. It’s okay to ask how a grieving employee is doing, but don’t assume they are willing to open up to you or share certain details.  While it can be comforting for some to know that you can relate to their grief, they may not want you to share your own stories of loss. Be there and listen without trying to cure their grief. Recommend they speak with an employee assistance program that can provide grief counseling or connect them to additional resources in the community if you sense they need to speak with someone or share with others how they are experiencing their grief.

What I’m really telling you is that 3 days isn’t long enough.  And, also, that you need to be aware of your employee’s well being in the weeks and months after a loss.  Ask them what you can do to support them. Talk with them privately about struggles and potential issues you observe in a compassionate way. Direct them to resources that can help them navigate their grief. Seek advice from a mental health professional, yourself, about how best to address behaviors in the workplace so that you can help your employee move forward at work in a healthy manner.



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