Grief in the Workplace: A Guide for Identifying Grieving Co-Workers and How You Can Help

Written by: Pamela Bills, LPC. Grief and loss are normal parts of life yet we as a society do not like to talk about them.  Often referred to as the […]

Written by: Pamela Bills, LPC.

Grief and loss are normal parts of life yet we as a society do not like to talk about them.  Often referred to as the “uninvited dinner guest,” grief is generally tolerated from a distance, a subject talked around not about.  However, in a workplace made up of humans, merely tolerating grief can be an unhealthy thing for individuals and for the workplace community as a whole.

We tend to think of grief as it relates to death loss yet there are many types of losses in life that require the grieving process.  For instance: loss of a marriage or partnership, a demotion or job loss, retirement, a child leaving home, loss of independence due to illness, deployment or incarceration of a loved one.  All of these things imply change and more pointedly a change in identity or how one sees one’s place or role in the world.

A death loss can shatter personal identity and redefine family roles and dynamics.  This can also be true for the workplace “family”.  It is perfectly normal for a grieving person to feel like they may be going a little bit crazy.  After all, the gamut of feelings and emotions can run from anger, hopelessness, relief, guilt, confusion, denial, sometimes in a matter of minutes.  The grieving process is not linear, though we wish it were.  It would be nice to know that on days 1-5 I will be angry then 5-10 in denial and so on.  That would be handy planning for the workplace!  However, it does not work like that.

Grieving people may have many intense feelings and you can help in a number of ways, some of which include:

Validating and acknowledging the loss: Let your Co-worker know that they  have a right to their feelings. Believe it or not, many people in the workplace feel that it is more appropriate to sweep these uncomfortable areas of grief and loss under the rug in the guise of privacy.  When more often than not it is our own discomfort with the topic of death that prevents us from naming it as such.

Refer to the deceased by name: This is another form of validation and respect.

 Listening without judgment.  Try to avoid asking questions out of curiosity.  You don’t need to know every detail about the loss to be supportive.  There is a difference between Needing to know and Wanting to know.  If your co-worker feels safe with you they will share what they feel is appropriate.

Choosing your words carefully.  So often very well-meaning people say very hurtful things.  It is best to avoid platitudes such as, “He’s in a better place, The angels needed him, Everything happens for a reason.”  I find it best to check my motive before offering comfort.  Am I saying something because I feel I should, or am I truly trying to be of support?  Never say, “I know just how you feel.”  Even if you too have had a similar loss remember, everyone grieves differently.

Offering tangible support:  If you want to help a grieving coworker you may think to ask, “What can I do for you, or what do you need?”  However, grieving people often are too overwhelmed to know what they need.  Hence, offering something specific can be a good idea.  For instance, making a plan to drop off a meal at a specific time and date, instead of putting the onus on the griever by saying, When is good for you?

Grief in the workplace may seem daunting at first, but really can be broken down simply to this: Be a good human.  Grief is a shared human experience whether we like to talk about it or not.  While it is important to think about what might be of comfort and support to you, remember that everyone’s grief is as unique as are they themselves.  If you don’t know what might be helpful for a specific coworker or friend, give yourself permission to ask.  Then, listen to the response.  People will often tell us what they need if we truly take the time to listen.


If you are interested in learning more tips and tricks on how to deal with grieve or provide comfort to someone grieving, give our office a call today at, 630.232.2233



  1. Pam,
    What a nice way of explaining how to help others with concrete examples. Thank you for your expertise.
    Bonnie D

  2. So helpful, thank you Pam.

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