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How a Manager Can Help a Grieving Employee

Christine McDade is a human resource professional (PHR & SHRM-CP) with over 20 years in the public sector.

Grief is difficult, and going back to work after bereavement can come with a variety of challenges.

Grief is difficult, and going back to work after bereavement can come with a variety of challenges.

One of the most sensitive situations a manager may deal with in the workplace is assisting an employee grieving the loss of a loved one. While most employers allow time off for bereavement, it is typical for employees to go through difficulties when it comes time to get back to the routine of a job.

The emotions and feelings that come along with grief can easily affect an employee's appearance, behavior, and performance during this difficult time. While some believe that the death of a loved one is strictly a private matter, employers can and should assist their employees during the grieving process and help them adjust to their return to work.

Since employees are the most important assets of any business, it is in the best interest of all parties to ensure that care and support are offered to any grieving employees.

7 Common Signs of Grief in Employees

In addition to the emotions associated with grief that an employee may express when they return to work, there are various other common signs that grieving employees may display. Grieving employees may display some or several of the signs listed below. It is very important for supervisors to recognize these signs to assist the employee through the grieving process.

1. Disheveled Appearance

Employees feeling the effects of a recent loss may not give much care or attention to their appearance when they go to work. Going to work may not be something the employee is ready to do. The care given to the clothes they wear, their hair, and their makeup may become less important to them as they process their loss.

2. Fatigue and Change in Appetite

An employee's health can easily be affected by loss, and diet and sleep are two of the most common areas affected. Sleep routines and appetite are often disrupted by the emotions one experiences during the grieving process.

3. Showing Up Late

Simply getting to work can become a challenge for a grieving employee. It is not uncommon for such an employee to oversleep or have trouble arriving to work on time per their organization's requirements.

4. Calling in Sick

For some employees, the issues of poor sleep and appetite cause an employee to call in sick. For others, the grief and depression that may follow might prevent the employee from even wanting to get out of bed in the morning. The idea of facing a day in the office may be too much to bear.

5. Missing Deadlines

Employees returning to their tasks and responsibilities after a bereavement leave may demonstrate less vigor and momentum in their work.

6. Withdrawn Demeanor

It is not unusual for c-workers to be somewhat hesitant in how they interact with their grieving coworker. Being afraid to say something insensitive that would bring up an uncomfortable reaction can make interactions somewhat strained when the employee returns to work. Conversely, the grieving employee may choose to stay somewhat isolated as they process their emotions and try to return to a sense of normalcy.

7. Inability to Stay Focused

An individual's ability to concentrate on the work entrusted to them is sometimes compromised due to the grieving process.

4 Ways Managers and Supervisors Can Help

Employees who experience the loss of a loved one are bound to go through a tough emotional period. After friends and family members have moved on from assisting the grieving employee, it may be the employer who notices how the grieving employee is doing through the grieving process.

Strong emotions are hard to leave at home when an employee reports back to work from their bereavement leave. While some may feel that they are ready to return, they may later discover that they are still too heavy-hearted to spend an entire shift at work.

A manager can do a variety of things, as needed, to be supportive of the employee and the difficult time they are going through during this period. A manager may choose to do some or all of the following.

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1. Listen and Be Patient

One of the best things a leader can do is to listen to an employee who may need a little extra attention or one-on-one time with their supervisor. A supervisor should be patient with a returning employee who may need a little extra time to get back to where they were prior to being affected by a death of a loved one.

2. Modify Their Work Schedule

It may be prudent to offer an employee who has suffered a loss the opportunity to work a modified schedule for the first week or so after the bereavement leave.

3. Refer Them to EAP or Grief Share Support Groups

The employee may benefit from counseling or support groups. Employers that have an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) may have trained professionals at their disposal to receive employees who need support through the grief process.

It is important for supervisors to contact human resources for assistance to help these employees. Human resources will have the contact information needed to share with the employee in need of help.

4. Give Them Extra Time Off

If a modified work schedule is not enough to help an employee, the employer should allow the employee to take a leave of absence. Since many employees choose to call in sick because they are not physically or mentally up to the demands of their job, it is prudent to offer them additional time off to care for themselves and the issues that are troubling them.

A few days or a week off may be inadequate for an employee who has suffered the loss of a loved one. Time off may be needed beyond the duration of the bereavement leave to handle funeral decisions, finances, life insurance, and other family matters affected by a death in the family.

Sensitive Leadership Is a Must

Supervisors are given many challenging issues to handle while leading employees in the workplace. Sensitivity and tact must be exercised for the care of the employee. It is important to remember that employees are what make an organization successful. Taking extra care for their well-being in the workplace during the grieving process is paramount for both the employee and the employer.

Since the process of dealing with grief is not something that happens overnight, it's important for supervisors to exercise patience when dealing with an employee who is suffering. The pace and timeline of grief are different for everyone. While there is no magic to end the suffering of the employee, there is a calm, patient approach that should be exercised for the support of the employee.

The employee who is going through the grieving process will appreciate the care and support they are given during their personal loss. Such assistance will help the employee to work through the challenges they face after their life-altering event.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Christine McDade (author) from Southwest Florida on June 04, 2015:

Offering condolensces would be an acceptable and, most often, an appreciated action to those experiencing a lost. It might be helpful to know that they have that support at work in addition to the support they get at home. Thanks for the comments.

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on June 04, 2015:

Very useful article. Personally, I always want to offer condolences, but am scared I'll say the wrong thing.

Christine McDade (author) from Southwest Florida on March 17, 2013:

Thanks for your comments. Managers can help an employee with their support on the job. They can really make a difference to the grieving employee who is trying to move forward during the grieving process.

JP Carlos from Quezon CIty, Phlippines on March 17, 2013:

This is a beautiful hub. Employers need to know their role when it comes to employee needs. The more support employees get, the better they can perform. Voted up and shared.

Christine McDade (author) from Southwest Florida on March 17, 2013:

Thanks for the comments. Having to deal with the loss of a loved one is very difficult. It helps to have a manager at work who will work with you during this period of your life. As you mentioned, sometimes, we think we are OK but the emotions sneak back up on us. There is no "one size, fits all" for the length of time for grieving. Patience is the answer here.

David Livermore from Bakersfield, California, United States on March 17, 2013:

One of my employees was grief stricken over the loss of a loved one for a long time. Even when we thought she was over it, she wasn't, and it contributed to a lot of her issues at work. I learned a lot from it.

Useful hub, voted up.

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