Employer Sympathy

What to Do When an Employee Suffers with Grief and Loss

By David Cox, SPHR, SHRM-SCP | October 20, 2016

When an employee loses a family member, do you find yourself stuck on how to respond in sympathy? Do you fear you will say the wrong thing or do something that will make the grief he/she feels even worse? How often have you ended up not doing or saying anything and later regretting it?

There is no greater need for employer leadership than when an employee experiences the death of a family member. Regardless of what is traditionally done in the name of the business (cards, flowers, food, etc.), sympathy requires a more personal approach. The kindest thing you can do, as an employer, is to acknowledge the loss and show that you care. Don’t withhold your support because you are uncomfortable. It’s not about you.

If you attend a visitation or family gathering, introduce yourself and spend a little time with available family members. No one should have to guess who you are or why you are there. Be prepared to introduce yourself and identify the family member with whom you work.

If you knew the deceased and have a fond memory of him/her, share it with family members. This is a time when people need to hear stories about the person they have just lost. Laughter and happy memories are healing in times of grief.

Be prepared to listen. A bereaved relative may want to share feelings. There is no need for a lengthy verbal response. All that is needed is an available ear and a sympathetic nod.

Offer to help in whatever way you can in order to leave the family free to grieve. Even the smallest act of kindness can be a tremendous help in times like these.

Attend the service if you can, and when possible, write a note of condolence to your employee. People will keep those handwritten expressions of sympathy and treasure them for many years.

After the funeral is over, continue to reach out as time goes by. Forget what people say about a year of grief. Grief often lingers long after the loss occurs. Mark the date of the death on your calendar and reach out with an encouraging word on the anniversary of the loss.

Part of building a strong employer-employee relationship is sharing the most difficult of times. If you can be there for your employees during times of grief and loss, you will have a positive impact in the life of your employee and in your own life as well.