Helping employees deal with grief in the workplace

grieving at work
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The loss of a colleague is hard for the whole team, but when handled sensitively it can help to bring people together.

Often we view our workplace as a safe place, somewhere we can leave our personal lives at the door as we get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the working day.

We spend a tremendous amount of time with our co- workers. They touch our lives every day. We work together, laugh together and complain to one another, experience successes and failures together – even bicker. We have good days and bad days together.

We form friendships and sometimes even look upon them as extended family, yet when we experience the death of a colleague we sometimes don’t always give ourselves permission to grieve in the same way that we would grieve for another friend or a family member.

As a result we can become confused, trying to hide from our feelings, which can be overwhelming.

Whether it is expected (perhaps following a long illness), or sudden, losing a colleague throws the work environment out of sync and it will take time before a sense of balance can be restored.

Talking about your loss

People can benefit greatly from having an opportunity to be able to say out loud what their colleague meant to them. It may be helpful to all sit down together as a group to allow each other the time and space to express feelings and to say what the relationship meant to them.

In conversation we generally compare our experiences and think about what we are going to say next instead of fully listening to the words we are hearing.

In this case, we need others to listen without comment or interruption. We also need to honour others with the same respect.

Some ground rules for introducing the discussion

  • Take it in turns
  • Do not interrupt when someone is talking
  • If they start crying at work, let them speak through their tears
  • Don’t approach them as this breaks the thread of emotion and release of pain
  • Just listen with your ears and your heart
  • Thank them for sharing but don’t analyse what has been said. When someone is expressing emotion, it isn’t conversation it’s a statement.

Appoint a group leader who can offer a few words of reflection to close after the sharing of feelings. The group leader could perhaps appoint someone to organise a collection of donations or a floral tribute and a sympathy card for the family.

Sharing memories and moving forward

A lovely idea is to create an office memory book to present to the family in which everyone can write down a personal message or a favourite memory. This will provide a valuable keepsake, especially if the career or work was very important to them.

It will also be therapeutic for those writing, thereby releasing some of the pain of their grief. Attending the funeral ceremony can give you an opportunity to pay your respects and give you a chance to meet the family and maybe share your memories.

Grief doesn’t end once the funeral has taken place. Upon returning to work, talking about your feelings with each other and keeping an eye on each other can help to prevent the isolating pain of loss and help to maintain an appropriate focus on work.

Colleagues who raise funds to commemorate the death of a team member have helped many charities and a great sense of community can be created when we come together like this.

Looking for more information on this topic? Read Bereavement at work: what is the impact, and what can employers do?

About Lianna Champ

Lianna Chanp

Managing Director of Champ Funeral Services
Dip FD MBIE MBIFD MICF

Founder of L Champ Funeral Services Ltd in 1985. Lianna is a fully qualified Funeral Director, Embalmer and Civil Funeral Celebrant. 

Lianna is also a certified Grief Recovery Specialist® and is fully experienced in all areas of loss.

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