The Grieving Employee
At some point in everyone’s life someone close will die (e.g., sibling, parent, grandparent, close friend, partner, wife/husband, pet). Given the frequency of life-threatening and chronic diseases in our society today, the employee could also be dealing with severe health concerns or death. Each person will cope and grieve in slightly different ways.
- Ask the employee if she/he would like to talk about the person who has died. You might ask: "Would you like to tell me about your friend?"
- Ask the employee if she/he would like to talk about how their health concerns are affecting him/her.
- Listen carefully and compassionately. You might say: "I am so sorry you have lost your grandmother” or “I feel sad as I listen to you talk about your concerns".
- Have a box of tissue available.
- Consider the option of allowing employees some leeway in their job responsibilities; however, clearly designate the parameters, including the duration.
- Share similar experiences you have had so the employee doesn't feel alone or "crazy". You might say: "When my mother passed away, I couldn't concentrate on anything either."
- Be on the alert for signs that the employee is feeling a need to harm her/himself as a way to cope with the pain. (See section on "The Suicidal Employee.")
- Refer the employee to EAP to locate community support groups that address grief and bereavement.
- In the event of a death that affects a segment of the university community, the Employee Assistance Program is available to provide individual or group support and intervention. The university also has a Critical Incident Stress Management (link) team in the event of a traumatic situation.
- Be afraid of tears. Tears are a natural, healthy way to release very intense emotions.
- Avoid discussing the deceased person or health concerns with the employee if they have shared this information with you directly. People are often grateful to find someone who will listen.
- Say, "It's not that bad," "Things will get better," "Crying won't help," or "I know exactly what you are feeling."