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How to manage employees who are grieving

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

When an employee experiences the death of a family member or close friend, it’s tempting for supervisors to take a hands-off approach to the em­­ployee’s grief.

Maybe the manager feels uncomfortable, wants to avoid inadvertent insensi­­tiv­­ity … or just doesn’t know what to say.  

However, silently waiting for the em­­ployee’s emotional recovery isn’t the best strategy. It can lead to reduced morale, reduced productivity and em­­ployees feeling that their managers don’t care about them as people.

Effective supervisors understand that grief is a mental health issue that must be gently confronted. Take the following four steps to sensitively manage grieving employees and their impact on co-workers.

After learning of the loss

Immediately show genuine sympathy and support. Don’t discuss job responsibilities; it can be perceived as insensitive and increase emotional distress.

Gently ask the following: “What would you like me to ...(register to read more)

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Carrie September 10, 2015 at 1:50 pm

I am in complete agreement with Susan, everyone grieves differently and responds to death in their own way. It isn’t boxed up in stages and it doesn’t have a time limit.
Each loss is different and each person who experiences loss reacts differently.
As a parent surviving the death of my daughter, I can say that I will NEVER be done grieving her death. I will NEVER be the person (let alone the employee) I was before.
Bereavement leave is a nice thing, but nobody is getting over the passing of their spouse or child in 3-5 days.
Coming back to work, even after two weeks, was the worst thing I had to contend with after losing my little girl, and I wasn’t a “productive employee” for probably 6-8 months after that. Even now that it has been 19 months there are still days when I can’t stop crying and I am not a functional employee. From what I understand from other people in my situation, this will not change, it is a life long expereince.
Our society want to label and organize everything to make it less scary, death and grief being two of those things, but they are scary, they do happen and they can’t be scripted.
Good try on addressing the issue, but I definitely thing this missed the mark.


Steve Grissom February 4, 2012 at 5:52 pm

Another very practical and helpful idea is to recommend a GriefShare support group to your employee. We have an international network of more than 9,000 sites equipped to offer these groups. To find the nearest one, search our database at

Steve Grissom


donna February 4, 2012 at 9:35 am

I must agree with susan, I lost my husband 3 yrs ago aged 40 and i still grieve for him. I had no support from my bosses and even had to phone them to ask when I should return to work. I returned to work two weeks after his passing but i now know it was far to soon. almost all my work colleagues ignored me, with the exception of a couple.
now at work I feel like i can’t talk about my loss because i can feel they are thinking, here she goes again, she should be over it.
i agree there are no stages to grief. its all to do with the individual and its an insult to anyone that has lost someone.


Sympathy February 4, 2012 at 8:43 am

Can’t agree more… you are spot on with your insights on grief.


Susan Fuller February 3, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Thank you for addressing this issue but I’d like to clarify some points. One there is no such thing as the stages of grief…they are nothing more than a cultural cliché. The whole idea does a tremendous disservice to people who are grieving and end up feeling like they’re not grieving properly because they’re not following the stages.

The other point is that grief does take weeks and months and even years. Suggesting that it’s only months is just plain inaccurate.

You might be interested in my book on grief, ‘How to Survive Your Grief When Someone You Love Has Died.’

Susan Fuller


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