Grief in the Workplace: Lessons from Employees


According to statistics at any given time, twenty-five percent of the workforce is grieving a loss. If you are returning to work after the death of a loved one, you will quickly realize that 2 to 3 days of bereavement leave only allows time to attend to the practical matters of the death.  Grief remains and often impacts work performance.  From distraction to absenteeism to errors to incomplete assignments, work performance is affected.

Here are lessons learned from grieving employees returning to the workplace:  
  • I am a children's librarian. My son was killed five years ago. I was about to quit my job. Seeing children who looked and dressed like him was a constant trigger. I told my supervisor, who was sensitive to my needs. He re-assigned me to an adult collection at another branch. I was so grateful. I don't know what I would do without my work.
  • My supervisor invited me to make a visit to the office prior to actually returning to work.  I went in on a Monday afternoon.  My co-workers greeted me with hugs and tears.  We talked and cried together for about an hour. When I returned to work the next day, it was nice to have those hugs and tears out of the way.
  • I couldn't wait to return to work. I needed a break from my grief.  My co-workers are wonderful.  They give me space to do my job and are ready to give me a hug when I ask for one.
  • I wear a photo button of my daughter on days when I am open to talking about her life. On days I don't wear the button, my co-workers know to keep to work related topics.
  • If I am having a moment, I walk around the building or up and down the stairwells. After several minutes, I am able to go back to work.  My boss understands.  I just say that I need to take a walk.  She gets it.
  • I met with my supervisor every week for the first few months after my husband died. She was very supportive. We reviewed my work load and what I needed.  It was really helpful.
Returning to work after the death of a loved one can also be beneficial. Employees are surrounded by friendly and nurturing co-workers. Resuming the safety and security of a daily routine provides stability that can help the bereaved cope with the death. Working provides the person a time to feel normal and have time away from their grief.  Completing projects and tasks boosts self-esteem which is impacted by grief.  

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