The value of supporting a grieving employee.

    February 3, 2016

    During your career, there’s a very realistic chance that you’ll encounter a grieving employee. Since few of us have the luxury of taking an extended leave, a significant part of the grieving process will take place at work. Though most of us try to check our personal troubles at the door when we enter the workplace, grief isn’t an emotion that can be so easily regulated. No matter how much work has piled up or how many deadlines you’re going to miss, you will have to accommodate your employee’s needs. Simply telling him to “move on” or “cheer up” is likely to leave him even more upset and even antagonized.

    And that’s precisely what you want to avoid.

    Consider this: Your company has invested a significant amount of time and money in the employee. Finding a replacement would be expensive and time consuming. Not to mention that you probably wouldn’t feel too good about yourself if you let someone go when they’re still working through a personal loss.

    Instead of focusing on the negative aspects of the situation such as an emotionally unstable team member, a depressed mood, or lower productivity, focus on the positive aspects. This is the perfect opportunity to show your grieving employee, as well as his colleagues, that he is valued by you and the company. By respecting what he’s going through and creating a supportive environment, he’s likely to become more engaged with the company. In addition, supporting employees in this way will enhance your employer brand, because it shows you don’t take your people for granted but instead, care deeply about their wellbeing.

    Not all people need the same kind of support when they’re grieving, so not all of the following strategies will apply in each instance of a loss. Use only those that make sense for the individual situation.

    • Stay in touch. According to Washington State Human Resources in the article “Supporting a Grieving Employee,” even if a co-worker is closer to the employee, you need to stay in touch, too. Express your condolences and ask if there’s any way you can help. If the employee’s worried about taking time off, inform him how many days the company allows in this kind of situation, and reassure him that you can always discuss coming back to work later.
    • Offer to inform the team. Most people want their supervisor to inform their colleagues, but the extent of the details he wants to share can vary.  Make sure you’re clear on this.
    • Express your condolences as a team. Depending on the employee’s wishes, you should all get together to send a card or flowers, and/or attend the funeral.
    • Find out if practical support is needed. In the event a spouse or partner has passed away, or a child, the employee might find it very difficult to function. Check in with him about this. If he needs support, see if your team can work something out with doing groceries, dog walking, or baby-sitting. If more structural support is needed, ask the employee if he’d like to be referred to social services or an alternative private company.
    • Be accommodating at work. Whether it’s shorter hours, telecommuting, a quieter office—find out if your employee needs to adjust his work environment for a while until he’s feeling stronger.
    • If the grief affects performance for too long, discuss the options. It can take a very long time for people to get over a loss, and this can affect work performance. If it becomes a long-term issue, have a conversation with the employee and suggest he seek help via a counselor or grief therapist.

    Supporting a grieving employee can be difficult, yet it’s important. Keep the above tips in mind, and if you need further assistance, discuss the situation with your HR department.

    View Related: Managing Employees

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