Running Your Business

Grief in the Workplace: How to Help Employees Facing Loss


  • Dealing with grief in the workplace can take a toll on employees' mental health and hinder productivity

  • Employers should inform employees of workplace resources that can help them through the grieving process

  • Consider implementing Employee Assistance Programs and offering paid time off to grieving employees

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Posted by November 9, 2017

Getting through an eight-hour workday at a full-time job can be challenging for anyone. However, for an employee who is handling grief in the workplace, a simple day at work can prove impossible.

One of the biggest obstacles one can face in their lifetime is the loss of a loved one. Whether it is a family member, friend or significant other, losing someone affects life dramatically. To grieve at home is painful enough—having to do it at work can be mentally draining and impair one’s ability to be productive.

As an employer, showing support and informing staff of available workplace resources can help a grieving employee manage their responsibilities and maintain mental wellness throughout the process. It is important for individuals who are dealing with loss to feel supported. Here are a few resources that can help employees handle grief in the workplace.

Implement a Bereavement Policy

Everyone’s grieving process is different. Many people require privacy and time away from work. Implement a bereavement policy that allows the grieving employee to take paid time off. Time away from the workplace is necessary for the employee to handle duties like funeral planning and begin the healing process.

The amount of time off you offer an employee usually depends on their relationship to the person who passed away. Some employees will be more discreet about their loss than others. Respect their privacy, but encourage open communication about the situation to properly establish the maximum number of days off the employee can receive.

Once employees have returned to the office, do not assume their grieving process is over. In many cases, it may be just beginning. According to John Kajic, a manager at Highmark Caring Place, employees typically receive only about three days off. So upon their return, they may seem emotional or visibly disheveled. Even if employees appear to be handling things well on the surface, consider the inner struggle they may be enduring.

Be Flexible

Just because employees are able to come back into the office doesn’t mean they can handle their typical workload. To make things easier for grieving team members, offer to shift some of their tasks over to a coworker for a limited time. If employees deny this offer but do not perform to their usual standards, you may have to make the authoritative decision to move forward in shifting certain responsibilities over to someone who can handle them for the time being. Let employees know you are implementing a strategy you believe will benefit both the individual and the company.

Offer Employee Assistance Programs

Most companies offer an Employee Assistance Program that provides counseling with mental health experts. This is a useful resource because it gives employees control over the help they seek. They can contact these mental health experts via phone or email anonymously. Some may be hesitant to utilize this tool because they value their privacy, so make sure they are aware of the inherent confidentiality of these programs.

Grief is a lifelong experience that can be triggered when one least expects it. By encouraging open communication, being flexible and informing grieving employees of available resources, you can effectively help them cope.

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