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10 Ways Companies Can Support A Grieving Employee

Showing Compassion Without Losing Productivity

Every year, over 10 million Americans may experience the death of a family member or friend. These significant life events can be difficult for anyone to process, but they are especially challenging when you have to do it while holding down a full-time job.

With an estimated 25% of employers in the US having at least one grieving employee on staff, it is important for employers to have steps in place to support their employees during this difficult time. 

The good news is there are ways that you can be supportive to your employees during this hard time. We have put together ten ways companies like yours can help grieving employees through these tough times.

The Importance Of Supporting An Employee During A Time Of Grief & Loss

Grieving is an important and necessary process that helps people come to terms with their loss. At a time when a person is sad and vulnerable, they need love and support from those around them.

In addition to being hurtful, it can also be harmful to the company as a whole if employees feel emotionally detached from their work, unsupported because of grief, or become resentful towards the company for not allowing them to grieve openly.

This resentment can cause them to perform poorly at work, put their co-workers in danger, or even quit. If someone walks through the door immediately after a loved one dies, it's important that they know you are there for them.

They may need time off or flexible hours during this difficult time so they can adjust accordingly to what is going. Even if there aren't any immediate work implications, it's best to give employees as much time as they need. According to Healthline, the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) can take anywhere from several months to several years.

It might be difficult for employees to balance work and bereavement, but it's even more difficult if they don't feel like their company cares about them. If you want your workers to return back to their best selves after a loss, make sure they know that you support them in every way you can.

The best way is to give the employees some time off. As mentioned above, it's everyone's right to grieve when they lose someone close to them.  

If you haven't yet experienced the loss of a family member and want to get a better understanding of what it feels like, ask trusted colleagues who have been through it if they're willing to share their stories.

Being empathetic and trying to understand how your employee is feeling while they are grieving and knowing what they're going through can help you better understand when the right time will be for them to return back to work. Here are some reasons why it is important to support an employee during a time of loss and grief.

STRENGTHENS THE EMPLOYER/EMPLOYEE BOND

Being supportive and understanding of your employee will strengthen the bond and allow the employee to grieve properly without the added stress of the employer's expectations. 

There are many ways as an employer you can show support. Something as simple as coming together with members of the team to support a grieving employee can have a positive impact both on the employee and the business. 

We will go into more ways that you can support your employees below however, regardless of the gesture by showing support to your employees you are strengthening the bond which may result in the employee being more likely to reciprocate the support and take on a greater amount of responsibility in the future.

SHOWS EMPLOYEES THEY ARE VALUED

This is a positive to the employee that is experiencing the grief and to the rest of the employees on your team.  They will feel assured that if they need this type of support, it is there.

There are many ways that you can show your employees support during this time. For example, taking the pressure off employees to return to work too early after a loss is a great place to start. Providing flexibility and making sure the employee knows that if it is is ok if they need more time.

If you become worried that they aren't coming back at all or there is concern about productivity, try offering some flexibility from your end. By providing them a flex-time schedule for example you allow the employee space to take the time off they need while still having the option to come in and work.

QUICKER RETURN TO WORK

If the employee is given the support and time that they need, they could return to work quicker and be productive. It's important for grieving employees to know that they don't need to rush back into work right away because of financial issues or social pressures

And while this could put a strain on business and productivity if an employee is given the support and time that they need, they are more likely to return to work quicker and be productive.

You should always keep in mind that when employees are valued it helps to keep spirits high in the workplace which leads to productivity not only for the individual employee but their colleagues as well.

STRENGTHENS THE COMPANY

If you have the ability to have staff on hand to support your employee during this time that is a huge benefit. By having resources an employee can go through this difficult period means they will not feel alone.

They will have someone to lean on and help them make a plan for getting back into work after a loss. Having a specific individual that they can go to can make all the difference in the world to them. 

If resources are not readily available, then work on compiling a list of resources that you can provide to the employee that can help them through their grief. You can use the assistance of various online communities as well as employees in your own organization that may have experienced a loss of a loved one.

It is important to note that when an employee feels supported and valued it's likely they will stay with the company longer.  This is beneficial to both parties as you won't have to go through recruiting and training new employees on top of dealing with the loss.

10 Ways That Companies Can Support A Grieving Employee

There are many ways you can support your employees during this difficult time.  For example providing bereavement leave, knowing when to return back to work, scheduling check-ins, and taking the time off of work if necessary are all ways you can support your employees during this difficult time. Furthering that - having a counselor on staff that the employee trusts for referrals or support is also a great way to help them heal.

Here is a list of 10 plus ways you can provide support to a grieving employee.

BE MINDFUL OF THE STAGES OF GRIEF

The first way to provide a grieving employee support is by being mindful of the stages of Grief.  It is important to understand the different stages of grief because the steps you can take to make an employee feel supported during a loss may vary depending on the various stages of grief. If a family member or loved one has recently passed away, it's important for you to know what to do if your employee comes into work struggling to cope with the death.

People usually go through five stages when they are grieving. The five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

The Denial Stage

The first stage of the grieving process is the denial stage.  In this stage, the mind will not accept what has happened. There is a feeling that it isn't real because the person is in denial that they have lost someone close to them.

In this stage, employees may show up to work as usual and go about their day as if nothing has happened. They're working as if everything is still the same and moving on with their life. They try to suppress any feelings of grief and pain that they may be feeling.

The employee's main priority is still to get the work done. They don't want to let anyone down or make mistakes because in their mind it would be a weakness, and they must remain strong for everyone else.

If an employee is still in the denial stage it is not uncommon for an employee to actually find it it difficult to focus on work. They may even have trouble getting out of bed but will still try to show up. This is where they may benefit from bereavement leave.


The Anger Stage

The Anger Stage is when the person starts to realize what has happened. At this stage, they are finally able to acknowledge the sadness they are feeling and the anger that comes with it.

They may become angry with themselves or their loved one for not taking better care of themselves. They may even be angry at God or whoever they feel is responsible for taking them away from them.

If an employee is in the anger stage, they may refuse to answer phone calls, tell you they're fine when they're clearly still struggling with their loss, or get into arguments with co-workers. At this time it's best to give them some space and allow them to work on themselves before talking about work.


The Bargaining Stage

The Bargaining Stage is when the person starts to understand that their loved one isn't coming back and may even start wishing they were at work instead because it's their last thought before going to bed.

At this point, employees may often feel like they didn't take the time to say goodbye or make up for and mistakes and "if only's" start playing in their heads.

If an employee is in the bargaining stage, they might be overly generous with their work or even talk about dying themselves.In this case, it might be beneficial to offer them a mental health day or allow them the time they need after work to talk with a therapist.


The Depression Stage

The Depression Stage is when  the person starts to feel more alone. They may have been grieving a long time and they know the pain is not going away anytime soon. At this point, people often feel tired and broken down, as if they will never be the same again.

If an employee enters this stage it might be evident by them being on social media excessively or showing up late. If an employee is in the depression stage, they don't want to talk about work or even answer their phone. They might find it difficult to get out of bed and go to work and if they do, they'll probably sit in the corner of the office with their head down.

During this time it's important to make sure they know that you are there for them and that they haven't done anything wrong.  It's okay for them to slow down on work and it's important that they take care of themselves before being productive at work.


The Acceptance Stage

The final stage of the grieving process is acceptance. At this point, the person has come to terms with their loss whether it be a death or a separation from a loved one. They have  finally found peace with what happened and they know their loved one is in a better place.

For some people, they may never move past the loss of their loved ones, but for most it's an accomplishment to accept the loss and learn to appreciate having had them in their lives. This is where employees can give themselves permission to continue life without that  person and do things that they would have done together.

If an employee is in the acceptance stage, they're ready to get back into work but might need guidance on how to adjust properly since grief can affect people differently.

If an employee has finally reached the acceptance stage, they will be ready to talk about what happened, share memories of their loved ones, or even laugh at a joke they may have made during happier times.

During this stage, it's best to give them time to grieve as long as they need. If they need time off, offer to cover for them or ask if there's anything else you can do to help them cope with their loss.

Just remember no matter what stage of grief an employee is experiencing it is important to be patient and kind. Loss is a difficult process and as an employer, it's important to remember that everyone goes through this differently so give your employees the time they need within reason.

OFFER BEREAVEMENT LEAVE THAT IS PAID IF POSSIBLE

This is a benefit that all employers should offer. And time off is one of the most important things that an employee will need during this time. Not only does an employee need time to grieve but they will also need time to make arrangements as well as spend time with other family members that may also be grieving. 

If an employee needs more time, be flexible with them and offer FMLA or Family Medical Leave if you are able to.  This allows your employees to grieve without worrying about financial limitations.

Don't pressure the employee to return back too soon.  Your worker may not feel like working after losing a loved one for a while. That is okay. It is important to not pressure them to come back too soon.

If they are ready to return to work that's great! But if they aren't, then don't be overbearing about the situation. This brings us to our next point.

SCHEDULE CHECK-INS DURING THIS TIME

Death can be a very isolating experience and it may be tough for the employee to open up about what's going on in their life, but by checking in you are showing that they still matter to you even when times are hard.

This can be done in a variety of ways. For example phone calls, emails, or even face-to-face meetings.

While the employee is grieving their family and friends are likely going to be busy with their own loss so by checking in you are offering your support as well. Being available them them during this time goes a long away. And this is something they will truly remember.

COMMEND THEM FOR THEIR STRENGTH & COURAGE IN RETURNING TO WORK

It is important to be sure not to make them feel guilty for feeling emotional during this time.  If they chose to go to work soon after their loss, commend them for their strength and courage to keep moving forward during this time.

However, make sure they are comfortable with asking for time off if needed and don’t feel obligated to keep on working.

Keeping an open dialogue and explaining that you are available if they need anything - whether it is work or personal related is very important. This can help because then they know that you aren't going to hound them but that the offer is there.

Remind them that they are not alone. There is always someone available to talk to if they need it.

ALLOW THEM FLEXIBILITY

Some may choose to return to work right away because they are looking for an outlet or a distraction. Everyone handles the grieving process differently. An employee may return to work right away only to take some much-needed time off later on.

They may also find that they need more time off than they initially anticipated. If the grieving process is dragging on and your worker is unable to come into work, then it's okay for them to take some more time.

Don't pressure them if they need additional time off as this can make their grief worse. Keep them in the loop of what is going on at work. Offer them options for keeping up with current news and projects if they are having a hard time coming into the office while going through their loss.  

Do not leave them out or exclude them from company activities that occur after a loss. Even if they do not want to be involved or even plan on participating you want to make sure that they feel welcome. It's important to know that this is temporary and they will be included in things again. And you can show them this by giving them the option.

CELEBRATE & ACKNOWLEDGE THEIR LOVED ONE

When someone has lost someone close to them, they might feel alone in this process and so it is important to bring them back into the real world and be with friends and family again. However, remember that the person who has suffered a loss can get easily overwhelmed if there is too much going on in their life.  Make sure that the company is not doing too much for them, but just enough to show that they care.

You can also offer them options of how they can best cope during this time and make their loss a little easier. This gives them an opportunity to see that you are trying and available while not overloading them and overwhelming them. 

SHOW THEM YOU CARE

There are many ways that you can show your employee you can care. It can mean giving them space or it can mean being present in their lives. The most important thing is to be there for them if they need you, but don't force it.

Pay attention to their needs and wants and use that in order to show them you care. Even the smallest gesture can make a huge impact for someone who is grieving. 

BE PATIENT & PROVIDE SUPPORT

Patience is important during this time. And it may be hard to provide support when someone is not ready to receive it. As discussed above a great way to show support is by checking in with them regularly. You can do this in a number of ways. For example, asking them how they are doing and listening. 

If they are not ready to talk you can also provide resources to help them through this time if they ask. Keep a list of places that can help them with their grief at the ready should they need it. Make it available but don’t force it upon them.

When they are ready they will know the resources are available and they will come to you.

BE PRESENT & LISTEN

An employee may not want to talk about their loss right away. And that is completely understandable. However, if the person does open up, be present and listen to them. Doing this will show that they are important to the company and how much they mean.    

The employee may be in need of a safe space to share and feel that they are being supported.Providing this opportunity to share their experience and grief, can greatly help with their healing process.

It will also strengthen their bond with you and they will feel a good connection to their workspace. By being present and listening this will help your employee feel safe and cared for.

BE WILLING TO ADJUST ACCORDING TO THEIR NEEDS

Everyone grieves and heals differently.  Maybe one way worked better with a previous employee, but that way does not help the current employee you are trying to support. Because of this, it is important to be flexible and try to cater to your employee’s needs.

You can do this by offering flexible hours or the ability to work remotely. It may be tough for the employee to come into work full time due to their emotions, but by having options to come in or work remotely they can still complete their projects and feel supported by you.

Just remember. Do not pressure them if they need additional time off as this can make their grief worse. There is no "one size fits all" when it comes to grieving and everyone heals differently.

By being patient,  you will help your employees get through a difficult time while also protecting them from stressors that could cause their grief to intensify.

DON'T TRY TO FIX THEM OR BE THEIR COUNSELOR

Helping someone through a tough time is always appreciated, but don’t try to fix them.  Just offer your support and be there for them if they need to talk or vent.

Don’t be their therapist. It's important not to take on too much of their emotional load as this could prevent them from healing and make them feel worse. Don’t assume what they should be feeling or that you know how to help fix their situation.  Just listen and let them know you are there for them.  

MAKE THEM AWARE OF AVAILABLE RESOURCES

While it's important to not pressure them if they need more time off, you should still let them know that there are options for them if they need additional help. This can be done by providing a list of resources or websites where they can find support.   For example, employees can benefit from receiving counseling or joining a grief group. 

Having resources available for employees will provide them comfort knowing that the company has their back and is willing to help keep their life on track during this difficult time. You also want to make sure that your policies address some of the frequently asked questions employees may have during this time. Here are a few examples of questions or topics that may come up.

Extended Time Off

The time allotted for bereavement leave is different in each company and state. Make sure your policies address what you offer and how it works. This will provide the employee with a safe space to ask questions should they have any. Also, make sure to have resources should the employee need extended time off. This can be a list of options that they can take advantage of as well so they can make the right decision if they need to take additional time off.

Paid Time Off

In most companies, having a bereavement leave policy that covers paid time off is a standard. Although state laws may differ, it's important that you have a bereavement leave policy in place to minimize the negative impact on your company and employees. This can be done by giving your employees the option of taking off what they need with pay.  The amount of paid time off they are allowed to take should be predetermined by your company.

Continued Healthcare Coverage

If your employee is going on leave or taking extended time off, giving your employees continued access to their healthcare benefits is important during this difficult time. This will help them focus on their healing process rather than worrying about how to continue getting medical care for themselves or a loved one.

Sharing Vacation Between Employees

Some employers will allow other employees to donate their paid time off to those in need.  This is an option that can allow other employees to feel involved during the grieving process of a co-worker. This can be a great way for an employee to get that much-needed paid time off and also a way for their colleagues to give back and support their friend and co-worker.

Shorter Workdays For A Period Of Time

Sometimes employees may need to take off a few days when they return to work after bereavement leave. If you allow them to come in on shorter hours for a period of time it can help the employee adjust and feel supported when they come back to work after grief has hit them hard.

Referrals To Grief Counselors Or Other Support

If your employees are open to seeking help from an outside source, giving them the option of counseling or joining a grief support group can be helpful. This is especially important if the loss is of a close loved one or parent.  Having access to this type of help can provide the support needed should they want it. Make sure ti keep an updated list handy. And take the time periodically to review it and make changes and updates as needed.

Easy Things To Do To Help An Employee That Is Grieving

We have gone over many ways that you can support your employees. Here are some additional ways you can help and be supportive.

SETTING UP A FOOD TRAIN

Sharing a meal with the grieving family is an easy way to show that you truly care about your employees. Not everyone can afford to stop and get food to eat during this difficult time, which makes it even more important that your employees know that you are willing to feed them when they need it most.

A food train is a great way to support your employee while getting others involved in the process.


ARRANGE TO HAVE PEOPLE HELP WITH KIDS & PETS WHEN THE FAMILY IS MAKING ARRANGEMENTS

Make sure this is something that your employee feels comfortable with you doing. It's not always easy to think of someone who can watch your kids or pet during this difficult time, but it helps tremendously when the employees around them are willing to help.


KEEP ALL EMPLOYEES INFORMED

Offer to let the other employees know about the loss and ask what or how much information they would like you to state about their current situation.  This way when they return to work, they don’t have to tell the story over and over about the loss they have suffered.

As difficult as it may be to release the news about a loved one’s passing, making sure your employees aren't constantly telling someone when they return can help them feel supported and cared for.

Helping Employees Support Their Colleague

As co-workers welcome their grieving colleagues back to work it's important that they know how to deal with them.  Here are some tips for other employees on how they can best support their coworkers during this difficult time.

DON'T PROD FOR DEATH DETAILS

Some may want to talk about it but you need to make sure that they are the ones who speak up when they are ready with no pressure from others. Make sure to not overwhelm them by giving them their space. When they are ready they will talk. In the meantime be present and be supportive but don’t ask questions until they are ready to speak freely about their loss.

LET YOUR EMPLOYEES KNOW WHAT THEY CAN DO TO HELP

They might not know how to help or what their co-worker may need from them during this time. Having resources that your employees can access in order to know what they can do to help is just as important as having resources for the employee suffering the loss.

Also having resources that will help your employees support their friend and co-worker after suffering a loss is just as important as providing support to the employee grieving.

Have conversations with all members of the team. Especially those that are close to or work directly with the employee who is grieving.

HOW TO SUPPORT THEIR COLLEAGUE WHEN THEY RETURN TO WORK

Keep an open dialogue and allow the employee's colleague the ability to talk through and ask questions when they need guidance on how they can help and be supportive.You may want to consider holding team meetings for example to give all your employees a chance to talk things through amongst each other.

GO OVER WHAT THEY SHOULD & SHOULDN'T SAY

Just as it is important to know when to ask questions it is also important to be careful to not say things that may upset them but instead show compassion. Things like “at least they are better off” should be avoided as these types of comments can only upset the grieving employee.

READJUSTING WORKLOAD & SUPPORTING EACH OTHER

Letting employees know that you are willing to help them with getting back into the swing of things as well as letting them know that they will have additional people on their team during this time. Employers can make a big difference in how an employee grieving a loss feels supported and cared for.

REWARD YOUR TEAM FOR STEPPING UP

It is important to show attention and support to not only the employee grieving but those that work closely with the employee. Death is hard for both those that are directly and indirectly impacted. Be sure to take the time to keep all employees in mind during this time.

KEEP COMMUNICATION OPEN

Keeping a dialogue open between employees and employers is important so everyone feels included. The passing of a loved one is always difficult, even if you are not directly related to the person.

Making sure your employees feel supported during this time will help encourage them to continue working to their fullest potential even when they are grieving. Offering support for anyone who has suffered the loss of someone close allows them to go

Supporting An Employee After Loss Frequently Asked Questions

How do you support an employee during a time of grief?

You can support an employee during a time of grief by communicating openly with them about the loss of their loved one.  Letting them know you are there to help and what resources are available for you to offer support if they need it. You can find more information about modern grief resources here.

What is the best way to approach an employee who has lost a loved one?

There's no "right" way to talk about death with someone who just lost a loved one.  Don't pry if they don't want to talk about it.  Listen, and show empathy.  

How do I communicate to my staff that I am here for them?

This can be done by communicating openly with all employees about the loss of a loved one and offering support or resources if needed.  Keeping an open dialogue between you and your employees lets them know they are supported during this difficult time.

What tools can employers use to support their grieving employees?

There are many resources that employers can use to support their grieving employees including ways to deal with grief, loss, or change in the workplace, how to have difficult conversations about death, and how to manage when employees are grieving.

How should I deal with an employee who has lost a child?

An employer should approach an employee that has just lost a child by listening and offering support to them if they want it such as financial assistance or time off work if needed.  It's important for employers to be sensitive in this situation as children are often seen as a blessing. You can learn more about providing support to an employee that has lost a child here.

How do you support staff when an employee has a loss in the family and they need to be gone for a while?

Managing an employee that needs to be gone for a while due to the loss of someone close can be done by letting them know that they are not alone and you are here for them.   Keeping communication open between everyone is important especially during tragic times like this. You can support your team by letting them know that they will have additional people on their team during this time and readjusting the workload of the team member that is absent.  

What are some things employers should avoid doing when dealing with grieving employees?

Some things employers should avoid doing when dealing with grieving employees are avoiding the subject altogether, not understanding what they are going through, or pressuring them to return back to work too soon.

Should all staff be expected to attend a funeral for another employee's loss of a family member?

Staff should not be expected to attend a funeral for another employee's family member. It would be appropriate to ask if the employee wants anyone else from work there and acknowledge that they might not want to talk about it or go at all. 

How do employers deal with requests from their employees to attend the funeral of a loved one?

This can be done by allowing them time off, letting them know they are not alone, and offering additional help if needed.  It is important to note that some people might not want anyone else from work there, so it's best to offer the choice of whether or not their team wants to come.

If the employee's colleagues are unable to attend, they may consider pooling money together to purchase a gift for the employees. Some ways that colleagues can help an employee remember a loved one is by arranging to create a personalized gift like a photo pendant. You can find some great options here.

What do I say to an employee that has lost a family member?

If you are unsure of what to say to a grieving colleague or employee, you can say, "I'm so sorry for your loss."  "Is there anything I can do to help?" or "Let me know if you need anything?"

Where do I find the resources to help an employee that has suffered a death in the family?

The resources needed to help an employee that has lost a family member can be found through the company's Employee Assistance Program, books at the local library, or by doing your own research. These resources can be helpful to grieving employees. 

Where can I find bereavement training for my staff?

Bereavement training can be found through several different resources including reading books, preparing for difficult talks with co-workers, on the internet, or by attending a workshop. Bereavement training can be done online, through the Employee Assistance Program, or by showing informational videos.

How do I politely ask when an employee will return to work after a death in their family?

Before asking when an employee will return to work, it is recommended to ask if they are comfortable with you bringing up their return date so they can let you know what works for them. You should be sensitive and understanding of the fact that their loved one might still be in their thoughts during this time.

What do you say to staff when someone dies?

When someone dies, it can be best to say something like "I know this might be a hard time for you, but if there is anything I can do to help, please let me know."  

How do you make an employee who has lost a family member feel supported?

As mentioned above you can make an employee that has lost a family member feel supported by letting them know they are not alone.  It is important to remember to be sensitive about what they might or might not want to talk about during this time.

Moving Forward As A Company: Strength In Community After Loss

The death of a loved one is always difficult, and it's even more difficult to balance work and bereavement. With that in mind, we hope you have found these tips for how they can support mourning employees during the grieving process.

There are many ways you can help your employees feel supported and cared for as they grieve their loss; these suggestions will get you started on what may be most applicable to your company culture or situation.

If any of these options sound like something worth trying at your workplace, let us know! We hope you found these tips helpful.

November 19, 2021 by Jeri K. Augustus