7 tips to support grieving employees

When an employee is mourning the loss of a loved one, it is important for the employer to support this person throughout the grieving process. But this is often easier said than done. Which are the best ways to offer support to someone in grief? And how can you make sure that your good intentions don’t have the opposite effect?

1. A combination of doing and being

There are two ways you can support grieving employees: through small gestures and simply by being there. Give other colleagues the time and space they need to remove some of the burden from their grieving co-worker. They can bring him or her a nice hot drink, or assist them with ploughing through a pile of paperwork.  

As an employer, you can let your grieving employee know that you want to offer a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on. Acknowledge their loss and their emotions, and avoid judgement. This is a good way to connect with them.   

2. Prepare your team

The return of a grieving employee to the workplace also poses challenges for co-workers. Discuss this with them and prepare them, to ensure they can support their grieving colleague as much as possible.  

3. Don’t ask too many questions

Asking what happened or how you can help –  no matter how good your intentions are – puts a grieving person in a difficult position. They have to decide whether and what to share, or whether they want you to help with anything. These decisions can be difficult to make at that time. And definitely avoid closed questions, such as “Do you want me to give this urgent phone call to a colleague?”. Instead, keep all options open, by saying “Your colleagues could take over some of the more urgent tasks. If you would like that, just come and see me, whenever you’re ready”. This gives the grieving person the time and space they need to think about their response. 

4. Don’t compare

Many people have lost a loved one or experienced trying times at some stage in their lives. Nevertheless, it is not a good idea to compare your situation with that of your grieving colleague. If you really want to be supportive, then it is best to remember their point of view.

Of course, you can briefly let them know that you’ve been through a similar situation, and perhaps they might ask you how it was for you. But starting the conversation with “When I lost my father recently…” usually does more harm than good.

5. Take your time

There is no need to express your condolences right at the beginning of the work day, in the elevator at 9 a.m. The first day back at work is hard enough for someone who is mourning a loss. Avoid rushed conversations, such as right before a meeting.

You can simply make eye contact and notice they’re there. Words are not always needed. Send them an email to let them know you are thinking of them and wait for a quieter moment in the day to offer your condolences in private.   

6. Let them take the time they need

Mourning a loved one is a long process that is different for everyone. Do not congratulate a grieving colleague when it seems they’ve managed to set aside sadness for a short time as they might feel guilty as it is already. Simply let them know that it is good to see them, without implying that their grieving process has come to an end. Put a reminder in your calendar to check in with them after some weeks or even months to see how they are doing.  

7. Doing something is better than nothing

Even if you are unsure of how to help a grieving co-worker, doing or saying something is better than doing nothing. Simply focus on their feelings, offer support and express your condolences, and let them decide for themselves if and when they need your support. Your good intentions will be appreciated, even if you are not the best at expressing them, or even if your offer for help is rejected. Offering support in a clumsy way or offering too much support is always better than not offering any.   

This blog post was inspired by an article in Harvard Business Review.

A good confidential advisor of a good chat is the best link between supervisors and team members

In addition to the grieving process, it is important to consider other psychosocial factors such as stress and burn-out among employees. A confidential advisor acts as the link between direct supervisors and employees. They help prevent risks and resolve problems.

Supervisors, too, play an active role in preventing mental health problems. Discover how an approach revolving on First Aid for Mental Health issues helps prevent avoidable absenteeism in your organisation.


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