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Dealing With Grief At The Office: The Top 7 Do’s and Don’t’s To Help Your Co-Workers Cope

Dealing With Grief At The Office:

I’ve been dealing with grief for the past 3 weeks, and I now know I’ll be dealing with this grief for the rest of my life.. You see, I lost the most important influence in my life – my amazing mother.   It was sudden, and we were close – it’s been like riding a rollercoaster that’s out of control ever since.

You just hang on… because, losing someone you love is the hardest thing you can go through without a doubt.

Lynette Stark
My amazing mother, Lynette Stark

Fortunately, when you’re faced with this new reality, most of the time you’ll find that your closest friends, family and loved ones, will be there for you – ready to support you when you truly need it the most.

They’ll call you, drop meals over, fill your home with flowers and cards, attend the funeral to support you, and be totally ok and sympathetic if you cry all the time.

So while you go through all of this sorrow and heartache, you’re protected, safe and supported.

But what about when you have to go back to work? 

Sure, you’re friendly with people at the office, but you may have only just started working at a new job, or, the team where you work aren’t particularly close…

So today I wanted to give you the Do’s and Don’ts to help your co-workers through this tough time.

# 1 – Do Call

When you first hear the sad news, often the first feeling is ‘what should I/we do’, and my response is to just be brave and call the person.

Yes, it’s totally ok to call.  You’ll find that the person involved will be grateful that you picked up the phone to check up on them.  They will be touched that you made that effort, and didn’t take the easier option of just texting them.

# 2 – Don’t Use Exclamation Points

When someone has just lost a loved one, it is really jarring to receive a text message that says “Just learned you lost your mother”!  “Hope you’re ok”!   Look I’m a chronic over-user of the exclamation mark normally, but, it doesn’t belong anywhere near a message of condolence..

One of the messages I received was “you must be really happy she’s in a better place now!”…   Whaaaaat?   It certainly didn’t feel like that to me, and that message (although extremely well intentioned), felt really harsh and was difficult to receive.

# 3 – Do Send Something

Dealing With Grief At The Office: Flowers

There is nothing lovelier than receiving a beautiful card, or flowers or a meal during times of loss.

I know in the past I was always torn on this one – thinking “oh, they’ll get so many flowers and they’ll all be dead next week anyway”…

That may be true, but to receive flowers and a heartfelt card makes the receiver feel loved, and even if it’s just for a few minutes, it can make them feel a little better – especially if they’ve just arrived home from making the funeral arrangements, and your flowers are waiting for them.

It doesn’t matter if their house is full of flowers – they’ll always remember the ones you sent (here’s a tip, if you are sending flowers, try and send them in an arrangement that comes with a vase)…

Meals are very practical, because that period between losing someone and the funeral, no-one and I mean no-one, wants to cook or even think about food.

They just live on take-away..

So a lovely home cooked meal, is a great idea – or invite them over for an informal dinner to take their minds off things at home..  One of the best things some of our friends did was just drop in.  No-one cares if the house is a mess (it was) or you haven’t got any special food in the house (we didn’t), they just want to be there to help you through.

And the good news?  Those visits made a world of difference, and helped us enormously…

# 4 – Don’t Know What To Say?

Absolutely no-one knows the right thing to say – and look, there is no RIGHT thing to say during times like these.

The most important thing you can do right now is just be there and LISTEN.  Let them know that you’re so sorry for their loss and the sorrow they’re feeling, and if you knew the person who has just passed away, it’s always lovely to hear a memory or anecdote you have of that person.. “I remember when we went out and your mum was there and we were laughing about the…..”…

And you know what, it won’t be all tears.  They’ll be doing a lot of reminiscing and remembering, and probably going through old photos, so there will also be times of laughter..

# 5 – Don’t Pretend It Never Happened

If someone at your office lost someone significant in their life and you know about it, PLEASE don’t pretend you don’t know and ignore it, just because of # 4 above.   Show some compassion, and ask how they’re doing – they will appreciate it.

# 6 – Do We Go To The Funeral Or Not?Graveyard and Flowers

There is no right or wrong answer here.  What I will tell you is even if you don’t know the person who has passed away, if you work closely with someone, your support will be really appreciated…

# 7 – What Happens When They Return To Work?

If you haven’t called, visited, emailed, texted, sent flowers or done anything, then you have some serious catching up to do (and by the way, you should have done at least one if not all of the above…)

You can start by giving them a big hug when they get back into the office, asking how they are, checking that they’re actually ready to come back to work, and if they’re not, making it ok for them to feel like they can take some extra time off (if that’s possible).

If they’re looking for work to be a distraction, that can be good too – and you may want to organise time to have lunch with them that week – or just have an informal meeting to catch them up on some things they missed while they were away..

So, when they return to back to work, here’s a list of what not to do:

  1. Say ‘hi’ like it was any other day (it isn’t).
  2. Fail to mention or acknowledge their loss (because it makes you uncomfortable)
  3. Forget to check in (even once) by asking them how they’re doing…
  4. Look the other way and quickly change the subject if they happen to make reference to their sorrow
  5. Make them feel guilty because they’ve been away from work

Look, dealing with grief is hard, but it is made so much easier when you have people – be they co-workers and colleagues, friends and family who are supportive and understanding.

Show your co-workers that you’re a business with a heart, and make sure if you have someone in your office who is dealing with grief, that you follow these suggestions – they’ll mean the world to them, and you’ll feel better too.