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Coping at work after a bereavement, or supporting a co-worker who is grieving

Coping at work after a bereavement, or supporting a co-worker who is grieving

Perhaps you work with someone who has lost a relative or friend and you just don’t know what to say. You may struggle to deal with tears or mood swings. Maybe you want to be supportive but you’re not sure how to do so without overstepping the mark.


If you’re grieving…


…take some time out. You may feel like you want to get on with life straightaway, but if you don’t start dealing with the emotion it will most likely hold you back in the future. Find out how much compassionate leave you are entitled to, and if you need more time, ask for it.

…talk about it. If you have a friend you can really talk to, don’t be afraid to reach out. People often avoid talking about the death in case it upsets those who are mourning, but tears are a natural part of the grieving process and you may just need someone to listen.

…ask for help. Maybe you need someone to handle your loved one’s finances or to help clear out their possessions. These can seem like insurmountable tasks when you’re consumed with grief. Some people struggle with giving emotional support but might be able to take care of more practical matters.

…spend time praying. You may feel angry with God or have questions over the ‘fairness’ of the situation. Talk to him about your feelings. The Holy Spirit is the ultimate comforter, and he will never leave or forsake you.

…be patient with yourself. When you get back to work, you may feel ok one minute and flooded with emotion the next. You may struggle with concentration or motivation. You might make mistakes. This is normal, and it will take time to heal. If you can, talk to your boss or co-workers about your concerns and ask them to double check your work if needs be.


If your co-worker is grieving…


…respond with kindness. Organise for a card and flowers to be sent, and write a supportive, reassuring, personal message. If you know your colleague well, it may be appropriate to attend the funeral or to offer a listening ear. You may need to make other people aware of the situation in an official capacity, but don’t gossip.

…make a contingency plan. It may be that your grieving colleague needs to take an extended period of leave, or perhaps he or she is back but clearly struggling. Do everything you can to lighten the load. Divide some of the work between the team. Be ready to deal with emotions and keep tissues close to hand. If you’re good friends, offer to take your colleague out for coffee and ask how he or she is feeling. Be gracious if mistakes are made, and if your co-worker doesn’t want to talk about it, don’t probe.

…be a constant support. People often take months or even years to recover from a bereavement. It’s great to show your support during their first days back at work, but remember that your co-worker may have major ups and downs for some time. Offer to help out with shopping or childcare duties to help make life a little easier at this difficult time.

…be flexible. If you’re the boss, try to be as understanding and flexible as possible. If your grieving employee needs to take extended time off, try to make a way for that to happen without overburdening other staff. Make a quiet space available for when your employee returns to work as they may need time alone to think or to cry in private. If you can see that it’s a particularly bad day, tell him or her to take the rest of the day off. The more understanding you are, the more likely it is that your employee will be able to get back on track and resume normal duties. If grief counselling is available, encourage your colleague to take advantage of it.

…don’t forget. Once the initial grief appears to have dissipated, you may feel as though everything is back to normal. But while your colleague may not be sobbing every day, it’s worth checking in regularly and showing that you care. Be particularly sensitive around celebration times like Christmas, Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day. 


Perhaps you need a change of scenery after a bereavement, or maybe you’ve been shocked by your employer’s lack of compassion for a grieving colleague. If so, it might be worth looking for a new opportunity.