I’ll Be Missing You: How to Handle Workplace Grief

Steps to help you and your office peer cope

Businesswoman crying at her desk

(Image: Thinkstock)

On Dec. 14, the nation watched in shock as reports of one of the worst school shootings in history hit the news. According to police, 20-year-old gunman Adam Lanza fatally shot his mother before killing 20 students and six other adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. He then took his own life.

When faced with tragedy, especially in the workplace, it can be difficult to cope or rebound. Dealing with grief at work can be a very uncomfortable, but real situation. What happens if you have a coworker who is dealing with the loss of a loved one? You may want to help but you aren’t sure how to go about it. While there aren’t any magic words to make everything all right, here are a few steps to responding appropriately:

How can I help?

It’s important to know that grief is a normal, healthy response to loss. Be a listening ear. Acknowledge their tears and other expressions of grief without judgment. If you feel comfortable enough, attend the funeral or call on your coworker to extend personal condolences.

What can I say?

Empathize with the person. A hand clasp, a hug or an “I’m so sorry,” can mean the world to a grieving person.

Experts recommend avoiding the phrase, “I know how you feel.” It can be very difficult to comprehend the depth of someone’s loss, and though you mean well, this could lead to a defensive response or alienation.

What can I do at work?

Offer to help by sharing the person’s workload if you can. Sometimes the smallest gesture can lighten the load. Even during the months following the death, continue to stay in touch by inviting your coworker to lunch or coffee. It’s important to note that everybody bereaves differently and to maintain your support through the months ahead.

Follow Jamie Harrison on Twitter @JayNHarrison.

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