How to Deal with Loss in the Workplace

Danielle Houghton

Community Writer

Among all the most difficult things we have to endure in life, experiencing the death of a loved one will be the hardest. It is completely natural and normal to feel that the grief it triggers is impossible to overcome. Whatever the others may expect from you, or how strong you have been in your life before, the death of a loved one can make you a different person, and you should understand that these feelings too, are parts that make you human.

Although we try to balance and make healthy boundaries between work and personal life, the complexities of your emotions stirred by the death of someone you love can directly affect your productivity at work. Briefly, going back to work while grieving or coping up with a colleague at your workplace who is grieving can simply describe as ‘awkward’.

It may feel awkward to express your feelings, it may feel awkward to say ‘everything’s alright,’ when it is not, and the relationships that you have built with the other coworkers are going to feel awkward and unnatural, but that’s okay.

Take all the time you need to heal yourself.

If you are reading this article to find ways to recover from this kind of situation, we sincerely hope that the words we write here will help you understand what you feel and that you recover step-by-step. As grief is an unavoidable part of our reality, and work is an essential component in life, we have briefed a few factors that may help you to cope up with grief at work without experiencing or causing discomfort.

If you have lost a loved one,

Before going back to work after the loss of your loved one,

Keeping your superior up to date about your situation will help take the extra burden you may feel about not being able to do your job. If you find it uncomfortable to express your situation to the superiors, you can contact a coworker with whom you are comfortable and let them relay the message to the others on your behalf.

If necessary, your employers will arrange bereavement support to help you take care of yourself before going back to work.

Adjusting to going back to work while grieving,

1. Talk to your superiors before heading back to work

With the loss of a family member, you may have new responsibilities at home to take care of. When you explain your situation to the employer, they can help you manage your workload and time in the office to help with adapting your life to the loss.

2. Request your employer for a flexible time frame

If you are not fully prepared for the usual ways of work, or dive headfirst into meetings and discussions, inform your employers about your sincere emotions. This way, they can arrange flexible working hours for you, or let you work remotely until you are prepared to go to work while grieving.

3. Refrain from knowing your coworkers know

It is important to understand that not all coworkers realize how you feel. Even if they do, they wouldn’t know how to show their sympathy or that they care about you, in the fear that their words may hurt you in some way. You may not know how to react, but don’t be ashamed to express how you truly feel. Navigating your grief at work will be easy with your coworkers helping out at your workplace.

4. Take care of yourself at work and at home

Simple projects, deadlines and your duties can easily stress you out, and that’s completely natural. You may find it hard to concentrate on your projects, you will take a longer time to complete simple tasks, and repetitive mistakes will wear you out adding up to the frustration and grief you are already ensuring. In such situations, inform your employer or coworker and ask for time off to relax your mind, and give yourself time. They will understand.

If you want to support a coworker who is working

1. Let them know how you feel about them

Share your condolences to your colleague if you are close with them or you can leave a simple note saying that you care about them and are sorry for the great loss. Act naturally around them and don’t over think what to do, because grief can make a person extra conscious about what others think about them and their situation.

2. Think about what you say,

The first thing someone would say to someone who is grieving a loss of a loved one would be, ‘Everything is going to be alright’. This, and saying that ‘they are in a better place’ would not help practically. If you could just help them continue a friendly conversation, it would help them feel at ease at the workplace. Directly talking about the loss will not help anything make alright, but asking them to join you for a coffee, or suggesting them some good music, or sharing a plain conversation will be enough to make them feel comfortable.

3. Help them reorganize without complaining

Grief comes in different ways and it affects the behaviour of a person even though they would not show it. You will find them being out of focus, or not concentrating on their task, losing weight, being messy, and having no interest in working. In those situations, try to help them by taking the workload off them. These can help them more than you think.

If you are a manager, try to help them by scheduling flexible hours for them to work, encouraging part-time work for them, and arranging for them to work remotely. If they are off work and are not responding to you or your emails, let them take time. Keep in touch with them and if necessary guide them to get bereavement support.

Death is a hard reality that you have to overcome. With the support of others, understating, and communication, it turns to be easy and comforting. Time always has a way of healing hearts and wounds.

Don’t try to control your sincere emotions and don’t let your emotions control you.