Grief at Work

Let’s talk about the importance of recognizing grief in the workplace.

Across the board, in many different countries around the world, we are given too little bereavement leave after someone we love has died. Supervisors receive little-to-no training in how to support a grieving employee and many colleagues don’t know how to talk about it. At most workplaces in the U.S., a few days after a life-shattering loss employees are back at work in the thick of their grief. In a lot of situations, after only a few days we might not have even attended the funeral. 

This is an important conversation because, for many of us, the workplace is where we spend much of our time. And unfortunately, there is no switch to “turn off” our grief when we go to work. So, we must learn to process that loss in our day-to-day, which includes all the hours we spend at work. We just went through this massive loss and now we need to pick back up the pieces and pretend that life goes back to “normal” immediately after… that our productivity stays the same, that our emotions are easily contained, and that we can compartmentalize our grief and tuck it away between the hours of 9 and 5 (or whenever we’re on the clock). 

But our grief is long-term. After the initial weeks, many might think that you’re “over it” and might not realize that grief is not simply a task to be completed. Our grief sticks with us and is a lifelong journey. 

So, don’t be afraid to tell your employer what you need – most employers are probably “lucky enough” to not really realize how grief may impact you in your day-to-day. They might not realize that you can forget things, it might take a little longer for you to complete tasks, and it can be incredibly difficult to sit at your desk and pretend that your life wasn’t just turned completely upside down. 

The greatest thing a truly supportive workplace can do for its employees after a death is to keep open lines of communication – to allow employees to have a space to share their feelings with their manager and give options to employees when a death occurs in their life. If you’re a manager, you might offer options like taking longer breaks, or working a few days from home while your employee is in the thick of their grief. This lets everyone in your workplace know, “It’s OK to feel what I am feeling” and helps to create that safe space… that space to be able to tell the people we work with that we’re having a hard “grief” day and need additional support. 

On the flip side of this open line of communication, though, is that some people enjoy the distraction of work after a loss. And also, people can be nosey or judgmental… and we aren’t all comfortable talking about our grief at work. 

If you don’t feel comfortable talking about it with your colleagues, here are some things you can say:

  • “This week has been really difficult for me. I appreciate you asking because it lets me know that I have someone to talk to if I need it.”
  • “While I don’t feel comfortable talking about it right now, I am grateful that I have your support when I need it most.”

And, if you’d like to keep the line of communication open in the future, you could try: 

  •  “I’m not doing so great today, but please feel free to keep asking because it means a lot.”

Death anniversaries, birthdays, and other special days can also be difficult. And not only the day, but sometimes the anticipation in the days leading up to them can be stressful and full of emotion. Something that might help is taking a break – maybe that’s taking a day off either on the special day or the day before it to allow yourself to recharge your batteries or to allow yourself to feel the emotions you might be feeling outside of the workplace. 

And when our loss isn’t acknowledged at work, it can create a culture and environment that feels isolating. If you’re stuck in a situation where you feel unsupported by your manager or employer, know that you have options. Your HR department is there to support its employees. So, if your direct manager or supervisor ISN’T being supportive of your grief, feel free to reach out to your HR department and let them know what is going on. They should be able to help. 

Through this journey, we encourage you to be gentle with yourself and know that navigating your grief at work is hard work. Take a couple of minutes to get away from your desk when you need a moment to yourself. Get up and take a short walk – to the water cooler or go outside and take a few deep breaths of fresh air. It can help us to reset. 

And there are a lot of great resources out there that you can use! One of our favorites is What’s Your Grief. There are many great grief-related articles and relatable content on their social media channels and their website!

Another great resource is the Actively Moving Forward app (a Heal Grief program) if you’re looking for a social platform with fellow grievers. 

And, as always, we’re here to help at SandCastles. Or follow along with us on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn for our current offerings and updates. 

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