Sometimes it’s difficult to figure out how to support a grieving friend or relative, and it can be even trickier when it’s a colleague who loses someone they love. Depending on the nature of your relationship and your company culture, you may not be sure of the best way to help them. Here are some tips that will work in most situations:
Understand the grieving process
When someone we care about is upset, it’s natural for us to want to fix things for them. However, everyone grieves in their own way and the process can take quite a bit of time. Keep in mind that you can’t “fix” your colleague’s grief, and don’t get frustrated if they don’t seem to be healing quickly enough. Avoid giving unsolicited advice, and certainly never tell them to “get over it” or “move on.” You’ll want to avoid telling them about your own personal losses as well, since they might feel obligated to comfort you, which isn’t helpful.
Say something -- anything
If you’ve never experienced the loss of a loved one, or you’re feeling uncomfortable because you don’t know what to say, remember that it’s better to say “the wrong thing” than nothing at all. If you’re able to stop by their desk for a private moment, ask in a deliberate, sincere way, “How are you?” This will show your colleague you care, and allow them to tell you how they’re feeling (if they want to go there). In a more public setting like at the water cooler, try saying something like, “I heard what happened and I wanted to let you know I’m thinking about you.” This way, you can show you care without putting your co-worker on the spot. If your co-worker’s loved one comes up naturally in conversation, don’t show discomfort or change the subject - used the loved one’s name and allow the mourner to talk about them.
Offer to help
While a lot of well-intentioned friends and colleagues may tell a mourner, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do,” this can actually cause more stress for your colleague. It puts the burden on them to reach out for help, when they may not have the emotional energy to do so. Try offering practical help, like taking over a presentation at a weekly meeting, or asking if they feel ready to perform certain tasks for a project that you’re working on together. If you’re particularly close to this colleague, you could offer to help with tasks like grocery shopping and other errands. For someone you’re not as close to, you might consider reaching out to your manager or HR to ask how you can help.
Watch out for signs of depression
While it’s normal for your colleague to be sad, even for a prolonged period of time, you may need to offer help if their symptoms become more severe. If your co-worker is feeling hopeless, experiences physical changes like extreme weight loss or gain, or mentions having suicidal feelings, check with your employer to see if they offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or any other type of grief counselling. If your employer doesn’t offer an EAP or grief counseling, there are hotlines you can reach out to on behalf of your colleague.
No matter what, it’s going to be difficult for your colleague to return to work after the death of a loved one. You can make it easier by showing a bit of understanding and support. It’s more important to show you care than to do or say the “right” thing. Hopefully, using these tips, you can ease your grieving colleague’s transition back into the workplace.