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Help employees through the grieving process


The death of a loved one affects more than just the people who suffer the loss; it also affects the organizations where they work.

The Grief Recovery Institute estimates that employees’ grief costs U.S. companies $37.5 billion a year in lost productivity. Here’s what a survey of newly bereaved employees found:

  • 90 percent said they experienced difficulty concentrating at work. 
  • 85 percent said their workplace decision-making ability had suffered. 
  • 90 percent in physical jobs reported a higher incidence of on-the-job injuries. 
  • 80 percent characterized their interactions with co-workers right after the loss as “fair” or “poor.”

When employees are grieving, your actions in the aftermath of loss can make a huge difference in helping them regain their footing in the workplace and their personal life.

Here are five steps every supervisor and manager should take when an employee loses a loved one:

1. Recognize that every person reacts differently and recovers at various speeds.

Grief may show itself as shock, denial, anger, guilt, anxiety, exhaustion, inability to concentrate and overwhelming sadness. Don’t assume that someone who doesn’t show those signs isn’t grieving; some people try to hide it from others.

2. Contact or visit the employee as soon as possible after the death.

Many bereaved employees complain that their manager responded inadequately or inappropriately to their loss. While a demonstration of group sympathy such as sending flowers from the entire department is fine, you can go one step further and offer your personal condolences by sending a separate card, attending the funeral or calling.

3. Offer concrete and specific help.

Newly bereaved people often feel overwhelmed. You can help by contacting HR for information about bereavement leave, benefit entitlements, medical claims or life insurance policy procedures. Pass along information about grief counseling that may be available through your organization’s health plan or employee assistance program.

4. Communicate.

If you see that the employee is struggling after returning to work, ask what you can do to help ease the transition. Most important: Be willing to listen.

5. Be flexible.

Some employees will need more time off, even after weeks or months have passed, than your organization’s bereavement policy allows. Others may have trouble carrying their full job responsibilities. Discuss options such as temporarily redistributing assignments or job responsibilities with the employee, but don’t push too hard. On the other hand, remember that some employees may return to work too quickly in an effort to avoid dealing with their grief. As a result, they may show delayed reactions months later.