How to Support a Grieving Employee

August 29, 2022

Laura Forbes provides tips on how to support and accommodate the special needs of a grieving employee and help ease their pain.

How to Support a Grieving Employee

What can you do as an employer to support a grieving employee going through the loss of a loved one? Beyond the funeral, the food and the flowers, can you play a role in easing their grief journey and helping them feel engaged in life and work again?

It can feel awkward for you and your staff when trying to support and accommodate the special needs of a grieving employee. Yet it’s important to give them time to cope and recover. If they’re rushed too quickly back into work, they may find it hard to be fully present, which could create a burden on the team working to cover their duties.

We sadly have some experience in this area, so we’d like to share some ideas on how to support a grieving employee that might inspire you, as well.

Start with your employee assistance program

This is a good place to direct the employee for grief counseling and other types of support. Most companies should have an independent EAP or one that’s part of their carrier offering. Coworkers of the grieving employee can also turn to the EAP as a resource if they’re having a hard time knowing how to support their colleague.

Some may be more comfortable with non-EAP providers

Your carrier or telehealth provider may help with finding a counselor that’s covered by your insurance program and setting up appointments.

Invite a corporate chaplain to visit

That’s right: non-denominational corporate chaplains are available for hire. We have one walk around The Miller Group offices once a week for quick check-ins. They’re available for one-on-one consultations, too. We also have a private prayer group, where employees can ask others in the group to pray for them.

Consider a benevolence fund

Financial pressures related to funeral expenses, travel and lost income can complicate the grief experience, and your company may be able to help with those. The Miller Group has had a benevolence fund for more than 40 years. Associates can sign up to contribute during open enrollment, and the company matches donations. We keep requests for financial support and decisions confidential, and we have an outside firm administer the fund. Even our executives don’t know who receives the money.

Offer flexible work options

Make sure your bereavement leave is sufficient. This is no time to be stingy with time off. Also consider flexible or modified hours, work-from-home or gradual return schedules to help the employee re-engage over time.

Help connect the employee with a funeral advocate

Funeral advocates are another service many aren’t aware of. Objective third parties like can help the employee make arrangements and negotiate pricing.

Consider each person’s individual needs

All employees don’t respond to the same things. At the Miller Group, we ask each employee to complete an online “work appreciation language” exercise like this one. It helps us know what kinds of support are most appropriate for each person.

For example, if someone’s appreciation language is Words of Affirmation, you can get the team together to write personalized notes, or even reach out directly to the individual. If their language is Gifts, you could find out their favorite restaurant and order dinner for them and their family. The idea is to personalize your response; what is meaningful for one person might not be for another.

Be sensitive to confidentiality

Some employees prefer to keep their personal grief private, while others appreciate it when their leaders and coworkers acknowledge it. Be sure to ask the employee whether they want others to know about their loss.

Make sure managers and employees are aware of these resources

Managers are on the front lines with employees, so it’s important they are aware of what help is available for grieving employees. Review resources in manager training and promote the EAP and benevolence fund several times a year – not just during open enrollment. Employees often don’t think about benefits until they need them, so you need to keep them front and center. They’re a good topic for managers to review in their one-on-ones, too. We require those monthly at The Miller Group.

We hope these tips are helpful as you consider how to support grieving employees. If you need any help, please ask us!

About The Author

Laura Miller Forbes, aPHR

Laura Miller Forbes, aPHR
Email As Director of HR, Laura has more than 11 years of experience and is accredited in aPHR and is active in the local chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Laura is responsible for the development, execution and maintenance of internal HR programs as well as all licensing and continuous education requirements for The Miller Group.

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