Losses are part of life. A colleague lost his wife in a car accident. A fellow employee lost her home. Your supervisor is going through a divorce. All these transitions are losses experienced by people every day, but do we acknowledge them at the workplace? Unfortunately it doesn’t happen on a regular basis.

Grief is the natural response to loss and it can have a huge effect on how we experience life. It can be manifested at various levels and in different dimensions, such as the physical, social, emotional and spiritual. How can you respond as a manager, supervisor or HR representative in such circumstances? Are you prepared to handle grief at the workplace?


In our culture, issues related to death and dying tend to be denied or suppressed, so the idea of sharing our grief in the workplace is something that seems remote or even inappropriate. We are supposed to be able to manage stress and work overload with a winning attitude, with stoicism and positivism.

But what about grief? A good manager strives to create a productive environment and to develop successful employees. An exceptional manager knows the meaning of having satisfied employees who feel they are able to communicate with their manager and believe that they are understood as they face a loss in their lives. The first step is to realize that losses are part of life and that grief can have a great affect on how we function, communicate and behave.

When loss enters the workplace it affects three different groups of people and their productivity: the person facing the loss, the manager of the company and the people working with that person who is dealing with the loss.

It has been said that for every death that happens, six people will be affected. I would suggest that co-workers are among those people who end up being affected.

For example, a grieving employee returns to work after the death of her mother. The moment she steps into the workplace, a silence may fill the air. Most people don’t know what to say or how to behave. Some of them ignore the bereaved employee, others gossip among themselves and just a few may say: “I am sorry–I know how you feel.” But in reality, do we know how she feels? This is one of the phrases we fall back on when we don’t know what to say.

What if we just gave her a hug? Sometimes we just need to let the bereaved person know that, in case he or she needs us, we are there. Sometimes we just need to be present.


A compassionate and communicative manager can make a difference in the life of a grieving employee and on the environment of the workplace, and managers need to be aware of what grief is, how it is expressed and how it is processed.

With this purpose in mind, many organizations are taking a stand and are offering workshops for their employees on grief and loss. Some also are providing support groups and even counseling for the employee who shows exceptional distress. They are aware that empathy can make a difference in the lives of others and that a grieving employee is not a productive employee.

Tags: ,

Ligia Houben

Ligia Houben is a speaker and educator in the area of life transitions. She works with the bereaved, the person who needs to face a new stage in life, children of aging parents, or people searching for more meaning in their lives. She consults with individuals and corporations on life transitions and spirituality with the purpose of providing tools to transform losses and challenges. Ligia obtained her B.A. from the University of Miami in Psychology and Religious Studies and a Masters Degree in Religious Studies and Gerontology from Florida International University. She also has a graduate certificate in Loss and Healing from St. Thomas University, a certificate in Thanatology and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Grief Counseling. Besides being a speaker, she is an author, coach, counselor and consultant. She is an adjunct professor of Kaplan University, Florida International University and Miami Dade College where she teaches courses on Ethics, Religion and Death and Dying. More... Ligia is the author of the self-help book, "Transform your Loss: An Anthology of Strength and Hope." This book contains "The Eleven Principles of Transformation™" which is a system that involves the emotional, spiritual, and cognitive aspects of the person as they face a transition or loss. Ligia created this system of transformation to help people transform their losses and change their lives. Reach her through her website, http://www.ligiahouben.com.

More Articles Written by Ligia