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When Death Touches Your Workplace During COVID-19

Tips and resources for supporting grieving colleagues, despite the lack of physical interaction.

Under normal circumstances, the death of a colleague, long-standing client or peer’s family member is heartbreaking. But in the midst of the current crisis, it is even more challenging. In many cases, the family can’t be physically present at the end, holding a loved one’s hand or hugging them one last time. Then the shiva, funeral, burial services, and other rituals we rely on for comfort are not available, or at least not the same way. With fewer people working together in the same physical space these days, quiet conversations in the hall or stopping in at a grieving colleague’s desk can’t happen, and virtual meetings with everyone on camera are not conducive to grieving colleagues comfortably expressing their grief.  

This reality is not going away anytime soon, so now is the time to adapt your company's grief support practices to reflect our new normal and help you offer a more relevant, thoughtful response to grief in your workplace.

Allow Extra Time and Flexibility

Bereavement leave policies typically allow three to five days and then workers are expected back at work, which is inadequate even in the best of times. With grief more complicated now, workers may actually need more leave than before. They will also require higher flexibility when they do begin working again. Grief, and especially grief separated from the usual support networks and physical proximity of colleagues and friends, diminishes concentration, scatters focus, and makes it easier to sink into sadness or even clinical depression.

So allow more time if workers need it and also give the option of off-and-on work for a while. Let grievers work fewer hours some days, work in spurts that add up to the same hours or design their work around their personal needs. Give more assistance with projects and more oversight, in order to prevent errors and offer support.

Reach Out Individually in Personal Ways

Don’t rely on digital communication. Start with a personal phone call. Ask how they found out, whether there will be a service and what’s happening in their family. Ask about the one who died to elicit memories and stories, including a question about what they most hope people will remember about that person. Then send a physical card with heartfelt handwritten words from you. Send a care package of healthy food. Continue to follow up and check in every week or so, asking about changing memories, how the grief seems to manifest for them and where they are getting support. Admit that you, too, are in new territory with this situation, and ask in what ways you are being helpful and what they wish you would do differently.

Offer Online Resources
Some excellent pandemic-related resources are available online to help individuals get the information they need for additional emotional support. Here are just a few:

  • Center for Study for Traumatic Stress—This organization is helpful on many levels, and it has a fact sheet on how  to help others cope with loss.
  • National Alliance for Grieving Children—If the griever has children, NAGC offers free resources, education, and connection calls that provide a safe place for kids and teens to process grief in the current reality. 
  • Grief Healing Discussion Groups—The site has online grief support discussion groups that are closely moderated to provide quality, safety and security.
  •—This is one of the oldest support communities on the internet, having worked with over 250,000 people. There are chat rooms, “circles” of support, journals and more.

Learn to support grieving colleagues and employees, especially in these most difficult circumstances. It’s the right thing to do, for yourself and for them.

Amy Florian is the CEO of Corgenius, combining neuroscience and psychology to train financial professionals in how to build strong relationships with clients through all the losses and transitions of life. 

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