There is sadness. There is depression. And then there is grief – a profound response to loss, be it the death of a loved one, the end of a long-term relationship, or an accident/ illness that changes our life. Grief involves deep sadness, and a range of physical, psychological, behavioral, and emotional symptoms which impact our functioning. 

What does that mean for the workplace?Grief deters our ability to be productive, saps our energy levels, prevents us from connecting with others, and takes us on an unpredictable emotional roller-coaster. Thus, someone who is grieving, may not be able to get back into routine immediately. Here are some conversations you can have to support your grieving colleague:

#1 How can I help you take some time off to heal?

Says Gina Moffa, psychotherapist at Mt. Sinai Hospital, “There is no time after a loss that people will feel 100% ready to go back to work.” If you notice that your team member has returned to work within a week of a loss, ask them about how they are doing. Chances are, they might be worried about losing their job if they took longer leaves.

Your role: find out company policies around bereavement and let them know, connect them to counselors who can help, and encourage them to have an honest conversation with their managers about their emotional and mental state.

#2 Let’s look at distributing your workload.

Research has shown that structure and keeping busy can often help, but it is crucial to remember that grief is a very personal process and can last anywhere from weeks, to months or years. Be aware that even if someone is back, they might not be at full capacity. As a colleague or manager, help them manage their grief. Go through their workload, and distribute 25% of it, for 2 weeks at a time. Allow them to skip meetings where their presence is not a must. This initiative will set the tone for how others can help a coworker in need.

#3 There is no pressure to talk about your feelings.

Following her husband’s sudden death, Sheryl Sandberg wrote, “Real empathy is sometimes not insisting that it will be okay but acknowledging that it is not.” When your coworker returns to work, allow them to express what’s going on and let them set the tone for how to talk about it. We have a tendency to make someone feel better by showing them the silver lining, or telling them that they are going to be okay. If you’re asking them how they are, also let them know that it’s okay if they don’t want to talk about things. 

Grief is a painful human experience that we all encounter. We ought to make it easier for each other. Don’t be afraid to reach out and support. Don’t overdo it either. 

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