Grieving the loss of a coworker

January 19, 2022

Coworkers are like a second family, and if someone you work with each day passes away, it can be felt throughout the workplace. Whether the coworkers were also close friends or simply worked side-by-side, experiencing the loss of someone on the team is significant. Leaders in the workplace may struggle with their own grief, in addition to trying to help their team.

"It's normal to feel upset, even if you didn't know the person well," says Jodie Voth, manager of Manitoba Blue Cross's Employee Assistance Centre. This is because losses of any kind that are in close proximity can trigger other loss experiences, especially if they were recent or complicated.

After a death in the workplace, it won't be "business as usual" for a while and the team's efficiency will naturally decrease for a short period of time. But leaders can support their team immediately and in the coming weeks as they cope and go through the grieving process- whatever that may look like to them.

"The most important immediate steps are to ask the family of the deceased for permission to share the news with staff, then gather staff and advise them of the loss of a team member," says Voth. "Gathering the work group together is important because it ensures that most people get the news at the same time, and it also creates an opportunity to acknowledge the loss collectively. Just as funerals are an important event for the bereaved, an informal gathering of the work team creates an opportunity to come together."

The ability to maintain the same level of focus or drive can be significantly altered, but typically people return to their usual level of functioning within a week or two. In the meantime, give yourself and others the time and space to attend to feelings of grief, identify a place to go for quiet time when needed, and even consider keeping schedules a little lighter for a while to help. Check in with team members to see how they're doing. Voth recommends checking in daily for a few days, up to a week, and then less frequently depending on how the team is handling the news.

After the loss of a coworker, the leader's role is to bring the team together, normalize the responses staff may experience, and recognize and support those who are struggling. For some whose grief is lasting longer than a few weeks or are grieving in a way that cannot be addressed with their typical coping strategies (e.g. talking to loved ones, taking care of oneself physically, meditation, prayer or recalling happy memories), then it's vital for the leader to suggest appropriate resources for additional support.

"Sometimes leaders feel pressure to be everything for their staff. This comes from a place of deep caring, however it's important to remember that a leader isn't usually a grief counsellor and it's an act of caring to connect someone who's struggling with the best resources available," says Voth.

This may include Manitoba Blue Cross's Employee Assistance Program (EAP), if it is part of your benefits package (log in to your mybluecross® account to confirm coverage eligibility), or community resources.

Last, but not least, leaders themselves will be experiencing their own grief personally and professionally.

"Acknowledging that this loss will also affect them as a leader and creating space in their schedule to attend to the practical aspects of losing a staff member, as well as the emotions around that, can be incredibly helpful acts of self-care," says Voth.

And leaders should not be afraid to show emotions to staff. If you're experiencing grief and sadness, allowing the team to see these feelings can help them see their own grief as normal and healthy.

"Showing appropriate emotion also communicates that the leader isn't on a pedestal or super-human, which allows staff to connect with the leader and makes them more likely to come to the leader if they are struggling and need support," says Voth.

Leaders can contact Manitoba Blue Cross about organizational assistance services to get tailor-made assistance to support your organization and team through a difficult time, such as the loss of a coworker. (Organizational assistance is available on a fee-for-service basis to all Manitoba companies. You do not need a Manitoba Blue Cross employer plan to access these services.)

If you are struggling with grief, reach out for help. Manitoba Blue Cross’s counselling services are available to all Manitobans, regardless of whether or not you have coverage with Manitoba Blue Cross. Find the available support that's right for you here.

Unsure of your coverage with Manitoba Blue Cross? Confirm your eligibility in your mybluecross account.

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