How to support a grieving coworker

How to support a grieving coworker

Death can come at any moment and is a part of life everyone deals with, including at the workplace. Sadness, pain and grief are all normal reactions for those grieving and getting support from those they work with is more common than not, considering how much time people spend at work.

When an employee suffers a loss of someone close to them, it’s often difficult for their coworkers to know what to do or how to act. Grief has no rules and can affect people in all different ways. And though one may have the desire to be supportive of their fellow coworker as they cope, it’s not always easy to know how to do that.

While the initial shock and grief may often take place outside one’s work space, such as in a home environment, the grieving process is not an overnight thing. It will more than likely take time and most people do not have the luxury of taking off work as long as they would like. Should you find yourself questioning how to support a coworker who has experienced the death of a loved one, look below for a few suggestions:

  1. Be available to listen

    Listening can be one of the best ways to help your grieving coworker. Rather than fill them with quotes  found on the Internet about grief, why not allow the person to vent in their own way. Asking pointed or probing questions doesn’t allow a person to express what they truly want to. Instead of trying to tell someone how to feel or what to do, even if its well-meaning with lines such as, “Stay strong; it gets better,” or “Take time off, you need it,” perhaps it’s best to simply say, “I want to listen. Say whatever you want.” You may be surprised at how much more willing someone is to share when they don’t have any pressure to do it a certain way.

  2. Show your support

    This could mean many different things, depending on the people involved and the specific situation but the premise of this point is to acknowledge that your coworker is going through a difficult time and to show you want to support with action. If you are asked to attend a service, make sure to do so. If you are a tight group, perhaps pitch in to provide a gift of support for your colleague. Some ideas could be giving them a certificate for a relaxing massage or a gift card for their favorite restaurant – anything to make their life a little easier as they go through this painful time. If the employee doesn’t have the option to take a paid leave, perhaps create a Missed Work Fund where all those in the office can contribute whatever they would like to provide a gift to the grieving employee when they return to work.

  3. Send condolences from the office

    Office managers are often the people who coordinate this but anyone can take the helm to make sure it happens if there isn’t one. In support of your grieving coworker, use petty cash to purchase flowers or make a donation to a charity in their loved one’s name. Support in this manner demonstrates that everyone at work is thinking of their workmate, who is going through a sad and painful time, not to mention this is a kind gesture toward all those affected by the death.

  4. Allow your coworker to grieve

    It may seem obvious to leave people be but it’s a lot harder than you may think. Allowing someone to grieve in their own way, in their own time, sends a message that there are no rights or wrongs and you’re just there to support. If you pass a coworker who is sniffling in their handkerchief, cast a glance to see if they want you but if not, continue on your business and leave them to it. Keep in mind a card filled with hand-written encouraging, sympathetic notes from all those in the office could certainly bring a smile to a face that needs one.

  5. Provide a place of solitude

    When a person is grieving, sadness can hit suddenly. Wouldn’t it be supportive to let a grieving person know it’s okay to step away from their desk for a moment of peace and quiet? Provide them a place to go to when emotions become a little too much to deal with. While work is the focus, humans are not machines. A few minutes to compose and collect oneself could be exactly what a person who is going through a difficult time needs. An unused area, a supply room or even the workspace of a colleague who is not in the office can all be used for this.

  6. Set up a week of provided lunches

    The last thing your coworker wants to think about as they deal with the death of a loved one is food and cooking. A nice way to be supportive is to take that off their hands. Five coworkers can volunteer to bring lunch for the bereaved so that at the very least, they don’t have to think about that during the first week back on the job.

At the end of the day, we all know life is a cycle that happens full circle – from birth to death. But despite the fact that death is an inevitable part of life, it’s natural and effective for people to suffer and grieve when it happens. The workplace is no exception. If you take the time to learn about how to be supportive, though, you may find yourself being very helpful to those who need it.