Grief in the Workplace: An Outline for Helping

From the Center for Grief Recovery

By Jerry Rothman, MSW, PhD

Grief in the Workplace

The first step in dealing with a death in an institution or workplace is to stop the normal activities and reschedule them so that employees can come together to share their thoughts and feelings. Depending on the organization, this moratorium will take different forms. In a school it is relatively easy to call all of the staff and students together in the auditorium, causing a complete halt in all business. However, in a business where salespersons are out of the office and everyone has a varied schedule, this will be much more difficult. On the other hand, many businesses have adopted the practice of actually closing for a day to honor the deceased. While this is a valuable mechanism, it precludes everyone getting together to share.

One of the most healing endeavors is to make time to express, process and share the feelings evoked by grief. Stopping the usual activities provides an opening to allow for sharing. It is often useful to invite an outside facilitator to help lead the group. Getting together will have to be an individualized process, especially in larger institutions. Logically selected groups may meet separately after everyone is brought together. If it’s not possible for all staff to be together, a series of smaller meetings may lead up to a larger ceremony or remembrance.

Because people function differently and grieve in their own style, its important to offer as many different formats as possible. For example, some people find a group very intimidating and would not be able to express their thoughts and feelings. Thus they would need a one-to-one situation. Some people find ceremonies healing, while others find them unappealing. In one school where several students had been killed in a car accident, a large assembly was held immediately to make the announcement and get initial reactions. Then students went to their homerooms where they could talk with a familiar teacher. All teachers were asked to either cancel their usual lesson or relate it to the event. Desks were set up in the hallway where parents, social workers, pastors and others were stationed. Several private offices were available for one-to-one intensive sessions, and several small group rooms were staffed for drop-in discussions. Thus, a large variety of formats was offered and students could use whatever was best for them. The wide range, from casual hallway chats to serious private sessions, proved very useful. This service array was kept in place for several days.

Ceremony and ritual can be very healing for most people. The ceremony can be as simple as having everyone take time to sign a card that goes to the bereaved family or it can be actually planning and conducting the funeral or memorial. In addition, periodic remembrances offer opportunities to process thoughts and feelings that arise. Anniversaries are useful marker points and can be utilized for ceremonies.

One chance to grieve often isn’t enough. Some employees may be in shock and may not be able to take advantage of an event. The more opportunities and repetitions available, the more effective the healing will be. By offering as many formats as possible, and as many varieties of activities as possible, a diverse group of workers can be supported.

Wherever possible, it is effective to use a wide spectrum of helpers because people have different emotional and behavioral responses. Some people may feel perfectly at home with a cleric, while others may lack any religious background or even blame God for their trauma. Some people may be comfortable spilling out their deepest emotions with a volunteer, but they recoil at the very mention of talking with a psychotherapist. Some might feel comfortable unburdening themselves with a volunteer, yet reserve certain issues for a clergy person and other issues for a social worker.

The above process is designed to allow the workplace to take responsibility for issues that deeply affect its constituency. The process provides for maximum individualization, while still encouraging people to share what they can with each other. Taking individuality into account does not require anybody to carry their burdens alone. Sharing emotions and memories can be very healing.


Related Articles:

When Loss Hits the Workplace

Condolences from the Group

Memorial Contributions

Sending Flowers


Also from the Center for Grief Recovery:

The Grief Experience

Self Care While Grieving

Managing the Holidays


The Center for Grief Recovery is a full service, non-profit nationwide Counseling Center helping persons who are dealing with emotionally intense experiences such as Grief, Loss, Trauma, Depression or Abuse. You can learn more at

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