Many individuals are unsure and unfamiliar with how to help a colleague who experiences the death of a family member or friend. Determining the appropriate way to express condolences to a co-worker may depend upon several things, including the circumstances of the death, the type of professional relationship shared at the workplace, and the presence of a relationship outside of the workplace.

How Coworkers Express Condolences

It is common for a coworker to be involved in some way in the mourning process to provide support during a difficult time. Colleagues can show support for the coworker by attending or participating in services, spending time at the funeral home during visitation, or sending condolence items such as a sympathy card, sympathy basket or flowers to comfort the mourners. Aside from critical business needs, it is recommended and most appropriate to limit communication of work-related items.

The Workplace: Helping a Coworker During Bereavement

During the bereavement period, in the absence of an employee, it is common for co-workers to help handle certain responsibilities. It is always important to communicate with management about coverage, but depending on the role and responsibilities assisting a co-worker during this time can be an excellent way to express sympathy, assist a co-worker and the company. If there are routine tasks that the bereaved performs, co-workers may step in so that the work does not sit waiting for the person’s return. The possibility of an over-burdened work load will simply add to the stress and worry. This also assists the business with continuing to operate in the absence of the employee.

The Workplace: Helping a Coworker When Returning to Work

When the colleague returns to the workplace, coworkers can assist by being sensitive to the loss, remaining present, willing to listen and offer condolences. In many instances individuals are uncertain of what to say or how to act as death and grief are difficult and uncomfortable subjects. Nonetheless, it is important to remember that a co-workers mere presence can be helpful to an individual returning to work following a loss.

As work time becomes more normal, conversations with the returning worker may include things that were accomplished in their absence and the things that are currently being worked upon. Some employees who experience grief have a difficult time transitioning back to a normal workload. During these times, others may seek ways to help lighten the work load for the grieving individual. Open lines of communication will bring reassurance to the bereaved. Small acts of compassion and condolence will provide big benefits in helping life and work fall back into place.