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How to Behave When Co-Workers Grieve


Grief hurts, and there is no use pretending it doesn’t. These three tips will help you behave appropriately toward a grieving co-worker.

(Photo Credit: lindsay.dee.bunny/Flickr)

Grief is something we all go through, but sometimes workers are unable to take enough time off after the death of a loved one go through the whole grieving process before they return to work. “Co-worker” is a specific relationship, not as close as friends and family, but with its own type of intimacy. It may feel awkward to work with a person experiencing grief, because there is a lack of traditional etiquette covering this situation.

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Write a Note

Purchasing a card for the office to sign is one way to appropriately acknowledge a co-worker’s grief. If you wish, you may write a short note on the card. Depending upon your relationship with your co-worker, you may write them a more personal note just from you. You may do this and sign the group card, as well.

Offer Specific Help

Generic, “let me know if you need anything” offers are well-intended but otherwise relatively useless. Most grieving people will not make an effort to communicate with a co-worker a personal need.

Offer specific help when your co-worker is grieving or experiencing hardship. For example, “Would you like me to run those reports for you today? I’m happy to help.” That’s specific, helpful, and will likely be appreciated. Even if your co-worker responds with “No, thank you,” she will probably appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Don’t Be Burdensome

Grief hurts, and people have to go through it. When grieving people must return to work or school, they often appreciate being treated in a normal fashion. A card acknowledging the life event is considerate. An offer of specific help is also a nice thing, but following the person around all day “to make sure she is okay” is overbearing and burdensome, as is constantly offering unwanted help.

Staring or tiptoeing around the co-worker will make things worse. Best practice is to acknowledge, offer help if it feels appropriate, and allow the person to get on with life.

Tell Us What You Think

Have you helped a grieving co-worker? We want to hear from you! Leave us a comment or join the conversation on Twitter.

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