New York State Funeral Directors Association

Grief in the Workplace

Thomas Aquinas once said, "Grief shared is grief diminished." This thought is so appropriate whether grief results from the death of a colleague's loved one, or the death of a fellow employee. Both situations call for compassion and understanding on the part of the workplace's management, employees and human resources department.

When an employee is suffering because of the death of a loved one, he or she should be helped to return to work and be productive again.

Grieving consumes enormous amounts of energy. But grief counselors tell us that energy can sometimes be restored with the support of others, organized surroundings and the satisfaction and praise from a job well done even under the most difficult of circumstances. To help employees who have suffered the loss of a loved one or a fellow employee, David Opalewski, President of Grief Recovery, Inc. says that companies should organize a crisis response team composed of employees trained and in place before a tragedy occurs. Such a team can act as an information source; assist in small group discussions; help workers who may need additional counseling; identify high-risk workers among the friends of the deceased and assist the family with obtaining benefits that may be available to them. Team members can also help the colleague who is unsure of what to do, or how to express his or her sympathy to the bereaved employee. Team members should be aware that the real work of grief does not begin until several months after a death, and may continue for an indeterminate length of time.

Companies may also implement a quality grief support program that allows bereaved employees to grieve and work in a healthy environment at the same time. Bereavement Publishing offers a "Grief in the Workplace" program created by Rachel Blythe Kodanaz that can be customized for any company, regardless of size or type of business. This program offers an automated computer checklist, helpful hints for co-workers and management, and mechanisms to support the bereaved family. Some of the benefits that can result from this program are:

  • Members of the organization will be better educated about grief and will learn how to best support the grieving employee.
  • A list of grief-related activities will enable management to better assist the grieving employee or the bereaved family of an employee who has died.
  • Utilizing the computer checklist will eliminate duplication between the human resources department and the manager when processing the many forms that need to be completed, changed or signed.
  • Recovery time will be reduced for the both the grieving employee and co-workers when the employer is willing to provide necessary time off and education, and follows a checklist of activities.

For more information about the "Grief in the Workplace" program, visit Bereavement Publishing's website.

Many of us consider our workplace colleagues to be our extended family. This is especially true when they express their care, concern and support for us when we are bereaved.

(Research information for this article derived from Bereavement Publishing and the college course "Death, Dying and Suicide Prevention" instructed by Dave Opalewski, President of Grief Recovery, Inc.)