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Grief in the workplace: expressing your sympathy

Most people spend a great deal of time at work, so it is no surprise that we often form close connections with our coworkers. When a coworker is experiencing grief due to the loss of a loved one, it can be difficult to find a way to approach him or her to express your condolences. It may feel awkward but it always helps to know that someone is thinking of you during a time of need.

Remember that people experience different stages of grief

Experts tell us that there are several stages of grief and it may be difficult to tell which stage your coworkers are experiencing. This can make a big difference in how they are able to accept your expressions of sympathy. Offering your condolences when coworkers are still quite depressed may make them tearful, causing them embarrassment in public. If they have accepted the loss then they will be more willing to talk about it and accept your condolences with composure. This is what makes it difficult to decide whether or not to approach coworkers during their time of grief; you really don't know how they are experiencing their loss.

How well do you know your coworkers?

It is also important to think about your own comfort level. How well do you know your coworkers? Are they people you know very well or merely acquaintances in the next cubicle? It may feel odd to speak to people about their losses if you hardly know them. You may also come across as disingenuous. You may feel a sense of helplessness.

In cases where you may not know your coworker very well, perhaps it is best to simply slip a sympathy card (see How to write a sympathy card) onto his or her desk. The gesture will be appreciated. This will also avoid any awkwardness that could arise if you were to verbally deliver your expressions of sympathy.

How should you offer your condolences?

If you are close to your coworkers, then it is both proper and important to offer your condolences personally. It would also be a nice gesture to send a sympathy card to the home. If you feel comfortable, then consider asking if your coworkers need help with anything, such as grocery shopping, child care, or making meals. This is a very trying time and they may need someone outside of their family to talk with. When a family suffers a loss together, everyone is grieving. Your coworkers may appreciate a sympathetic ear from someone who is not experiencing the same grief and can be more objective.

What if you are the boss or supervisor? 

There are different circumstances involved if you are the boss or supervisor of employees who have suffered a loss. You are uniquely capable of lowering their stress levels about job duties and time off from work. Offering the necessary time off is not only essential, but is also a simple act of kindness. You should also offer your condolences in person and consider attending the wake or funeral of the deceased.

It is also a nice gesture to send a sympathy card (if you are unsure what to write, see How to write a sympathy card) to the home as well as sending a floral arrangement to the funeral home. The sympathy card should be signed personally while the flowers should be from the entire company. This will show your employees that you care for them during times of grief and loss.

Make sure that you offer additional support

Grief in the workplace is a difficult situation to handle. When coworkers have suffered losses, they may need that little extra support that shows the caring and support of fellow workers and management personnel. Whether this is through a sympathy card, flowers, or a sympathetic ear, your coworkers will be grateful. Everyone has experienced grief at some point and it is helpful to know that you are not alone.

You could also visit our Send Ecards page to send your coworker a virtual sympathy card.

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Further sources of information

You may find our other articles in the Coping with the grief of others section helpful too.

Visit our Amazon store to find books to help you through bereavement.

Download our free Bereavement For Beginners guideVisit our blog for further inspiration, healing and hopeVisit our From You Flowers store to buy a wide range of funeral flowers and sympathy flowers onlineDo Not Stand At My Grave And Weep: our ebook of over 250 poems, quotations and readings for funerals, memorial services and inner peaceVisit our Amazon store for a wide range of bereavement books to help you along the path to recoveryShare your sorrow in our bereavement forumPractical, useful information on death, grief and loss to help you on your own journey through bereavement




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