We can all agree our co-workers tend to become part of our extended family over time. What starts as casual coffee dates tend to blossom into more serious life-long friendships beyond the office's four walls.
And just like our lives, our co-workers ride all the emotions of life no matter how hard they aim to keep their personal lives “at home”. We’ve all tried to hide our emotions and have a brave poker face when the world feels like it’s falling apart.
This rings true when it comes to grief. Grief can’t be left at home, no matter how hard you try ( and want it to be ). What’s important to remember is we are all humans with real emotions and feelings.
If you’re experiencing a co-worker going through grief, here’s a quick article on how to deal with it and put your best foot forward in some of their darkest times.
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The age-old Australian way of keeping your personal life at the door has engraved in people not to share what’s going on outside the workplace. And as the world moves into a more empathetic state, most employees are still in this mindset.
For this reason, grieving co-workers may want to keep their cards close to their chest. In most cases sharing the death of a loved one with only the closest workplace besties. Or – on the other hand, sharing with higher management due to work performance.
Whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is stepping inside their shoes and picturing what’s going through their mind? They might feel uncomfortable with the entire team knowing they are grieving, so where does this leave you?
Knowing what to say when they confide in you can become awkward and uncomfortable. Is this a hug situation? Can I go off for a cry? How will this affect my concentration? Do I feel bad that I didn’t tell them about my close friend dying?
– most or all of these thoughts will cross your mind.
The good news is that they came to you because they trust you, which should make you feel more comfortable.
So let’s break down what we can do to ensure you are showing up for them as you’d hoped.
Firstly, take a deep breath ( or two ); talking about death is hard, and there’s no sugar coating around it. However, vulnerability can make you closer, as weird as it may feel.
“Sorry” is your best friend in these cases. The easiest and most impactful thing to say when a co-worker has come to you about losing someone is to say, “I’m sorry”,... Followed up by asking if there was anything you could do to help the grieving process.
One thing to remember here is to work on their terms and time. What we mean by this is letting them know you’re ready to talk when they are. Don’t be the leader in this situation and have the time to chat set on your time.
As for the workplace in general, don’t let the news of a grieving co-worker exclude them from the everyday life of a normal day.
Never avoid them because they are grieving or isolate them from the workplace vibes and banter.
At the end of the day, as harsh as it may sound – It’s not your job to be a counsellor or professional in dealing with grief.
Finding a common ground of a nice level of empathy and communication within your scope can go a mile for the grieving co-worker. Aim to keep the workplace as normal as possible with the ability to have a conversation if need be by the griever.
Do you want to know what’s worse than getting pulled up for workplace karaoke? Receiving a condolence card from the team.
Nobody likes receiving them, and nobody likes contributing to them. This sounds like a good idea – however, avoid it at all costs.
On the flip side, if the co-worker is somebody you consider a true friend, the idea of a gift can go a long way. The key to this is keeping it simple, with nothing over the top and not a bunch of flowers sent to the office.
Unlike the dreaded work card, a simple message on a card partnered with a small gift shows you care while not making an over-the-top scene.
The final advice we would offer is to bring up the shared stories you might have of the person who passed.
Remembering the way they spoke about them will bring a level of comfort and, most likely, laughter and joy to the situation. These are the little things that they will remember and appreciate you for – more so than any gift or card.
Seeing someone grieve sucks; there are no two ways around it. But one positive we can take from this could be a wake-up call on your future.
Have you considered what your plans are for end-of-life?