National Grief Awareness Week 2021: How to help employees handle grief at work

By Alex Hanttingh, CPO at Employment Hero

There’s a misunderstanding surrounding grief, that people can move on from it at some point. The reality is that everyone experiences grief differently and although the pain of loss can grow gentler, people who have been through loss will know that it’s more about adapting to the absence of their loved one, than ‘moving on’.

There’s no reason why workplaces can’t be soft places to land for people going through this adaptation process. Employers, HR managers and teams alike can take steps to prepare for these kinds of events.

Avoid minimising and making promises

There are a few important things to avoid when communicating with staff who are grieving. Whilst it’s important not to hesitate to be in touch as an employer, take these considerations with you into the conversation:


No one likes to see their colleagues upset. When we talk to someone who we know is feeling down, we often look to put them at ease by finding some common ground. This empathetic approach may work for some scenarios, but in this situation, it’s likely to minimise the person’s experience.


A platitude is a meaningless statement which can invalidate a person’s feelings. This includes sayings like ‘it could have been worse’ to someone who has had a bad day. The overused statement is unhelpful and likely to offend the receiver. There are many platitudes that relate to death and grieving, be cautious of statements like;

  • Time heals all wounds.
  • Everything will be ok.
  • They are in a better place.
  • They wouldn’t want you to be sad.
  • This too shall pass.

Understanding different grieving styles

Did you know that there are two different grieving styles? In order to cope with the experience, people often fall into or move between two camps;

Intuitive Griever

An intuitive griever is more likely to visibly show how they are feeling, and may experience powerful waves of emotions throughout their working day. Intuitive grievers may feel more comfortable expressing or discussing their emotions. 

Instrumental Griever

An instrumental griever is less likely to outwardly express their emotions. They may not display the ‘expected’ signs of grief, like crying or becoming visibly upset. They are more comfortable in expressing their grief by doing something – like taking on physical work, beginning a new project or throwing themselves back into their work.

How to help a grieving person returning to work

Be gentle with them about your expectations, and be prepared for a few failed attempts at returning. It’s OK to acknowledge if the person isn’t coping. You can always recognise that returning to work for a full day may have been a bit ambitious, and suggest that maybe a morning tea with their immediate team or working a few half days may be a better approach.

What do I do as an employer if a member of my team passes away?

Make sure that you are in touch with the family of the employee that has passed. Offer your condolences and then seek their feedback on how they wish for this news to be presented to the organisation. This gives the grieving family some agency over how their information is conveyed.

Communicate the news to your team in a face-to-face meeting if possible. If your business has a distributed workforce, hold a video conference and make sure that your camera is on, but allow others to turn theirs off. Be flexible with giving your team some time to absorb the news.

Author: Editorial Team

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