Unfortunately, at some point in most of our professional careers, we will have a coworker or colleague who is going through a personal tragedy. Whether it’s a death in the family, a miscarriage, or a loss of a family pet, tragedy and grieving are handled differently by different people. Knowing how to support a grieving coworker can be beneficial to both you and the coworker in this trying time.
Supporting a coworker during those trying times can provide an immense level of comfort and relief for them. However, understanding how to approach and provide that support may be difficult, if-not slightly awkward, and uncertain.
Knowing what to say, and equally, what not to say, is especially important during times of tragedy and grief. Approaching a coworker during a trying time is almost always done with the best of intentions, but you should be sure that you’re prepared before doing so.
Per the Harvard Business Review, “broadly speaking, there are two ways you can support a grieving colleague: doing or being. Mourners need both.” In times of tragedy, a family member, friend, or coworker needs both your support in your actions, as well as in your presence.
But the act of “being there” can be slightly uncomfortable. It’s not a state that we are often attuned to. But being there for a coworker and allowing them to grieve with no predisposition may be one of the most helpful things you can do.
Being there can be something as simple as allowing the grieving coworker to cry in front of you, to vent their thoughts and emotions, to discuss their feelings. By simply offering an open, non-judgmental atmosphere, you allow the coworker to express themselves and the pain they are feeling.
But you shouldn’t discount your actions either. Again, mourners need both, being and doing. And though the being part may be awkward, it is in fact more difficult to do something. In instances of grief, there is little that can be done to relieve the feelings. However, lending support and words of encouragement may be the best and most honest option.
Assign A Point Of Contact
Once news of the tragedy has reached the office, you should liaise with your colleagues and managers and figure out a point of contact. This should be the singular person who reaches out for updates from the grieving coworker.
While you may want to send the grieving coworker a personal text message or phone call, you don’t want to inundate them with so many different messages during this trying time.
Rather, have the point of contact offer a note of sympathy, sorrow, and consolation on behalf of the team. Feel free to send a message a few days after the news has reached the office to allow the coworker some time to grieve and internalize the news.
Your message should be short and to the point, something along the lines of:
“[NAME], I am so sorry for your loss and am thinking of you in these trying times. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you need anything at all.”
Again, short and straight to the point is your best tactic.
Don’t Be Intrusive
While you may be curious surrounding the nature of the tragedy, you should avoid discussing the nuances and details. This includes with both the grieving coworker and your remaining colleagues. Maintain a level of business etiquette and simply do not discuss the rumors.
Keep it professional and leave the rumors and gossip for another time. Your coworker is going through a difficult time and you do not want to be seen as nosy and unprofessional in the workplace.
During trying times, many people forget to attend to daily tasks and routines. Something as simple as taking the kids to school or preparing a meal for dinner may be overlooked. After giving a couple of days for the coworker to grieve, feel free to ask specific needs in a helpful manner.
You can send a text message inquiring if they need daycare assistance for their children, if they need a warm meal sent over, or if they need you to help with any loose ends that may be difficult at the moment.
Though it may be easy to compare to other’s grieving processes, you should absolutely avoid doing so. Each person and individual is different and their grieving process will be different. Don’t hold expectations or a date that you believe they should be better by. Allow them to grieve at their own pace and be there for support.
Don’t Ignore Them
Though you may feel slightly awkward or unsure of how to approach your coworker, you should make every effort possible to do so. Ignoring them will only make them feel worse and more isolated. Approach them slowly at first and inquire on how they are feeling and let them know that they are in your thoughts.
Slowly continue to interact with them, allowing them their space. You can ask them if they’d like to take a walk with you or run to grab a cup of coffee. These interactions will help them feel better and allow you to be there for them.
Your grieving coworker will appreciate any and all efforts that you make. Though it may not be immediately noticeable, your acts of kindness and comfort will have an effect on them. Be there and offer support, your coworker will be stronger because of it and will remain grateful for your assistance.