In most companies, when an employee suffers a loss, there is a set bereavement policy where the individual is able to take a few days to attend to the business of grieving.
A typical policy is anywhere between one and five days, depending on the closeness of the family relationship. Several companies have even made headlines recently for adding bereavement leave for the loss of a pet to their benefit packages. Many companies also express condolences by sending flowers or cards.
However, it’s often the period after the funeral when mourners most need support. With forty to fifty hour work weeks, we arguably spend more time with our coworkers than any other person in our lives, so it is appropriate to want to help a coworker with grief. But many people are nervous about what to say, particularly in a more formal work environment.
Helping a Coworker with Grief
When a coworker returns to work after a significant loss, they may express a desire to “get back to normal.” Sometimes even taking on more responsibilities in an attempt to push aside their feelings of grief. Despite this wish, they may experience difficulty in making decisions and an inability to concentrate. You might notice irritability and mood swings. These are common, and there is no set time period for the grieving process. It can last for months and can return unexpectedly – especially around holidays and anniversary dates.
Support your grieving coworker by occasionally checking in with them about how things are going. Avoid using clichés about how their loved one is “in a better place” which can sometimes sound insensitive.
Instead, simply listen to how they are feeling and remind them that you are there to help if they need to take a break. Invite them to lunch or to meet outside the office, so they can let their guard down and talk in a less professional environment.
Above all, continue to communicate with your grieving coworker. Don’t add to their sense of isolation by backing away from them. If your company offers an Employee Assistance Program, encourage them to take advantage of that support or to consider local grief support groups.
Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care offers complimentary grief recovery groups in all the communities we serve. Call us at 1-888-564-3405 to find a grief recovery group near you.
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