Helping Co-workers After a Loss

Grief is a major workplace challenge—even without pandemic conditions. Bereavement experts (see Bento, 1994, for example) have seen workplace grief as “disenfranchised” insofar as the loss may be ignored or unacknowledged, not socially sanctioned or publicly shared (see Doka, 1989, pp. 4-7), and “stifled” insofar as “recognized grief [is] denied its full course” (Eyetsemitan, 1998, p. 471).

It might at first seem that we can take care of our grief at home, away from work. Yet grief unacknowledged and unaddressed—even at work—is grief carried.

There are remedies, however. A workplace that offers a culture of support is one where grief is not minimized but rather acknowledged (Thompson & Lund, 2009, p. 44). In such settings, workers receive more than a three-day emergency or compassionate leave to address their losses. There is a formal, written policy making clear their opportunities to speak up about their needs. In a culture of support, coworkers also have received education and support of their own bereavement, stress, and/or trauma needs so they can be present for the people primarily affected by the grief-inducing event.

What is a Culture of Support?

Elements of a supportive workplace culture include, but are not limited to:

  • Connecting the human resources department with an EAP;
  • Having critical incident management resources and support at hand for rapid deployment;
  • Establishing reasonable and effective bereavement policies and informing all employees about them both prior to and after a loss;
  • Educating administrators and employees about grief and mourning, including how to express sympathy;
  • Accommodating the bereaved as their needs shift over time;
  • Finding collaboratively developed solutions to how to work when grieving, which can affect productivity positively:
  • Supporting the team that supports the bereaved to address their own grief about the loss and its ensuing changes to the immediate work setting and team needs[1]

Employers Deserve Support Too

People don’t check their grief at the workplace door. Some go to work eager to leave their sadness at home while others reluctantly drag themselves to work. Either way, employers must keep the productivity up while the bereaved worry about lowered productivity and possible absenteeism. Everyone in such situations deserves to be supported.

Learn more about Beth Hewett’s work at Bereavement | Good Words For Grieving | United States
Read more from Beth Hewett on Open to Hope: What to Look for in a Grief Companion – Open to Hope

Beth Hewett

Beth L. Hewett knows grief from personal experience, and she has a heart for those who grieve their loved ones. Her desire to help other bereaved people led to her work as a Certified Thanatologist (CT) with the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC) and as a Certified Compassionate Bereavement Care™ Provider with the MISS Foundation. She also has earned a certificate in Death and Grief Studies from the Center for Loss and Life Transition and is a former National Catholic Ministry for the Bereaved Minister of Consolation Trainer.

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