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By Anja van den Berg

Grief is a universal human experience, yet workplace culture is often not geared to support people suffering a profound loss.

With the global coronavirus pandemic, many have lost loved ones and coworkers. Now, more than ever, leaders need to know how to deal with death, especially when a colleague passes away.

Here are how managers can help their employees after the death of a teammate:

  1. Don’t rush them

“Grief is a natural stage of life, but our society often wants to rush right through it,” says Dr Arielle Dance, a women’s health researcher and chronic illness advocate. Unprocessed grief affects not only emotions but also job performance. Paradoxically, offering employees enough time to deal with their grief winds up costing the organisation less while increasing employees’ positive feelings towards organisational leadership.

  1. Demonstrate authenticity

Dance says that leaders often feel pressure to remain poised and in control in emotional situations. However, she adds, “sometimes we need to display vulnerability, not composure”. Offer a space for your staff to express their emotions freely. By showing them that there is no shame in authentic emotions, you’re giving them a platform to work through their processes of grieving.

  1. Acknowledge that grief is ongoing

One way to understand grief is to expect it in phases: one marked by defiance and anger, one by pain, despair and disorganisation, and one by slow reorganisation and reinvestment in life. These phases unfold in a progression. Mourning doesn’t unfold in a neat, linear manner, says Sally Maitlis, organisational behaviour and leadership professor. “Mourning workers will experience both progressions and regressions after a loss,” Maitlis continues. “That’s why managers should understand the three phases and the most helpful response to each.”

Immediately after a colleague has passed, Maitlis recommends that the manager should acknowledge the loss without making demands. After grieving employees are back on the job, managers should be patient with inconsistency in performance and attitude. Then, as workers ultimately emerge from mourning, managers should support this opportunity for growth.



Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2019/07/when-a-colleague-is-grieving

SHRM: https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/0917/pages/how-to-support-employees-through-grief-and-loss.aspx

Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2020/11/working-through-the-death-of-a-colleague


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