How to Cope With a Grieving Colleague

Sometimes, co-workers have tragedy in their lives; their grief can become obvious in the workplace and not all of us are the most tactful with situations such as these, especially since they don’t happen very often. Grieving for each person is different and everyone handles grief in different ways, so if a co-worker is experiencing a loss or difficulty in their lives, these tips may help you cope with their emotions.

Be sensitive, but appropriately

Chances are your co-worker doesn’t want to be constantly reminded of their situation at work. If they announce a death in their family or tragedy in their lives, it’s appropriate for you to give any condolences and show the appropriate level of concern. You can offer to act as an ear or a shoulder for them if they need someone to talk to. But most often, people experiencing loss or grief want to do so in the comfort of family and friends, if they don’t prefer to grieve alone.

Once you’ve shown concern, you should act as normally as possible while still be sensitive to topics that could potentially upsetting. For instance, if your co-worker’s mother passed away, making ’your mama’ jokes is definitely not the best idea, even if it is typical for your company culture. Remember that unless you know your co-worker on a really personal level, they may not want to share every detail of their grief with you.

Give them what they need, even if that means space and silence

Sometimes grieving co-workers want nothing more than to be distracted by work and tasks. This is a normal way for some people to deal with grief, and if your co-worker wants to be alone, be sure to give them the space they desire.

Likewise, sometimes they just need to be in the same room as someone. Consider asking if they’d like to share a cube with you or sit in your office or at your desk for a little while. Ask them to lunch if your co-worker is coming off as a little needy. Sometimes having a little company--which doesn’t revolve around their tragedy--can be a breath of fresh air for them.

If they’re taking time from work, consider a card from you or the office

If a co-worker has to take a sudden trip for a loss, consider having a card from you personally or from the office ready when they return. It may be best to mail the card to their address rather than giving it to them in front of the whole office; if they respond emotionally to the card, it may be embarrassing for them to express that in a public setting.

Remember, though, a card may not always be appropriate. If your office isn’t particularly close or your co-worker hasn’t mentioned anything about the situation, it may be best to avoid a card.

Coping with grieving co-workers can be tough, especially for those of us who have never really been in this particular situation. However, by remaining considerate and tactful, you and your co-worker can navigate this difficult time together.


Creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by Kalexanderson.