Supporting a Grieving Coworker
When a coworker, boss, employee, or workplace friend loses a loved one, it can be difficult to know how to support them. Unless you have spent a lot of time together outside of the office, chances are that you have not met their relatives—and probably did not know the deceased personally.
At the same time, spending so many hours together every week means that you may be very close to your coworker. To watch them grieve can be very difficult, especially if they are at work out of necessity, rather than because they are emotionally ready.
Being supportive at work is one of the best gifts you can give a grieving coworker. Because they may be feeling overwhelmed, daunted, or otherwise unfocused and adrift at work, your support could make all the difference. Here is how you can help.
- Attend the Funeral: Even if you did not know the deceased, consider attending the funeral or memorial service. This is more to support your friend than to grieve the deceased—which is a perfectly valid reason to go to a funeral. Even if you do not have a chance to speak to your friend, being there and signing the guest book is enough to show you care.
- Send Condolences: A sympathy card or funeral bouquet is perfectly acceptable to send to a coworker and/or a coworker’s family. This should be done through traditional avenues, meaning you should always send these to the funeral home or the family home rather than to the workplace.
- Find Appropriate Spaces to Talk: When a coworker returns to work following a loss, you might feel compelled to rush over and offer your condolences. However, a workplace is still a workplace, and having this conversation before a meeting or while everyone is gathered around the water cooler might not be appropriate. It is okay to give them space to settle in and wait for a more ideal time to broach the subject—during a break or when the two of you are alone in the office.
- Offer Tangible Support: It can be difficult to know what to say to a grieving coworker, which means you might rely on the old standards: “I’m sorry for your loss” or “Let me know what I can do to help.” Although these phrases won’t harm your friend, they are not very helpful, either. Be more specific in the support you offer, and make it easy for them to say a simple yes or no in reply: “I’d be happy to run errands during my lunch break or pick up lunch for you this week.” “If you’re not up to talking on the phone, let me know and I’ll handle those calls for you.” “I have a few extra sick days that I’d be happy to transfer over to you if you need them.”
- Check in from Time to Time: Grief is a long-term, ongoing process that can impact every aspect of a person’s life. Even if your coworker seems to be doing great, be sure to check in every so often. Do not ask how they are doing, since that may force them to confront feelings they’d rather not bring up; instead, tell them that you are thinking of them or offer to meet outside work to chat if they want to talk. One of the worst things you can do is ignore their loss or assume they would rather leave their loved one at home.
Remember, too, that your desire to be supportive should always come from a place of love and healing—not a wish for better productivity. If you find yourself hoping to help your coworker move on so you can get back to business as usual, it may be better to leave the support to others.