Supporting a Grieving Employee

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The grief process occurs after all kinds of losses—loss of loved ones through death and divorce, job loss, loss of physical ability and health. These experiences are difficult for everyone. As a manager of a grieving employee, you must be able to balance supporting an employee and their work team with meeting the expectations for workplace productivity. There are work responsibilities and deadlines that must be met but it is also important that workers feel supported and valued.

The Role of the Manager

Grief is an important and necessary process and recovery takes time. Telling an employee to “snap out of it” will not return an employee to productivity. Offering the confidential support of PAS to the grieving employee and family for their well-being is both a caring gesture and an excellent productivity management strategy.

Grief is hard and lonely work; there is no way to make it “go away.” Your job is not to “manage the grief” but to create an environment where work can progress as your employees move through the stages of the grief process. Establish a transitional return-to-work, return-to-productivity plan with your employee rather than expecting him or her to be fully functioning immediately after experiencing loss.

It is very important to stay in touch with employees who have not yet returned to work. Communicate that they are valued, missed and needed back in the workplace. Your caring support and professionalism can set an example that will last long after the experience and is one of the most important elements to promoting the healing process for your work force.

Avoid comparisons such as “I know just how you feel because my brother………” What you know is how you felt, and we cannot really know what another’s feelings are or might be. Each person will have unique reactions.

Expect to hear repetition in the telling of the employee’s story of loss; it is part of the healing process. However, if it is not the proper time or place, you can acknowledge their interest in talking and schedule the conversation for a more appropriate time and place (“I can’t talk right now. Can we talk at 3:00PM today?”).

You may also need to set limits. You may find listening is difficult for you at any given time for various reasons. Acknowledge what they are saying is important, but that listening is difficult right now.

Remember holidays and anniversaries may be especially difficult times for a grieving person. If you are comfortable doing so, ask what you can do to provide extra support during these times.

Recognize that unexpected or uncharacteristic behavior is sometimes part of the grieving process.

Self-Care for the Grieving Manager

As a manager of a grieving employee, you must be able to balance supporting an employee and their work team with meeting the expectations for workplace productivity.

When you are the one who has experienced loss, it is important that you take good care of yourself. Here are some tips on self-care during the grieving process:

Remind yourself that your grief will end. You will not feel like this forever. You will heal.

Take care of your health. Grief is extremely stressful, and it requires energy to manage the stress.

Planning for Employee Return to Work

Before your employee comes back to work, ask how you can help. Some questions you might consider asking your employee include:

Would you like me or another person to share any information with your co-workers? If so, what information or details would you like them to know?

Do you want to talk about your experience when you return, or would you prefer to concentrate on work?

Are you aware of any special needs at this time? Privacy? Initial reduced work hours? Help to catch up on your work?

The answers to the above questions may fluctuate on a daily basis early in the grief process.

Coaching Co-Workers

Co-workers may benefit from some guidance on how to best support a grieving employee. Following are some suggestions to offer them:

Offer specific help. Many people in grief will find they are too tired, too numb, too overwhelmed to decide what they need. Offering to do grocery shopping, provide childcare, or bring meals over can be a huge help to the employee.

Don’t rely on the worker to bring up the loss. Acknowledge the loss. There really is no right or wrong thing to say. The wrong thing is to say nothing at all.

Take time to be alone. In the days and weeks following the loss of a loved one, there is often a flurry of activity. You may have many visitors and phone calls. This can be quite exhausting. People will understand if you need some time away for a while.

Maintain as normal of a routine as you can. You have enough changes in your life right now. Try to get up, go to bed, and take your meals on the same schedule that you typically do.

Let people help you. People want to help because it gives them a way to express their feelings. Staying connected with people is especially important now, and accepting help is a way of staying connected.

Avoid making extreme life changes. After a major loss, don’t make any important decisions until your life feels more balanced. It may be tempting to make dramatic changes right after a major loss as an effort to feel more in control. If you can, put off such changes and decisions until later.

Don’t hurry your grief process. People sometimes want to put their feelings and memories behind them because they are painful. But grieving takes time, and there are no shortcuts.

Expect to regress from time to time in your recovery process. This is normal. It may happen unexpectedly but probably won’t last long.

PAS consultants are available to help you and your employees through the grief process. To receive confidential assistance please call PAS at (800) 356-0845. There is also a wealth of information in the LifeTools section

and the EAP Coordinator section

of our web site (

This article is not intended to be construed as legal advice, but is provided as an overview of good business practices.

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