If you’ve ever lost a loved one, you know how difficult the grieving process can be.  It can be full of a wide range of emotions that are often experienced in stages.  As someone from the outside looking in, how can you help a person who is grieving?  November 21st is International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day; a day dedicated to “people affected by suicide loss…to find comfort and gain understanding as they share stories of healing and hope”.  Whether you’ve lost someone to suicide or you know someone who has, it’s a devastating situation that often leads to more questions than answers.  If an employee is dealing with the loss of a loved one through suicide or otherwise, it’s important to ensure they feel supported during this time and beyond.

In light of International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, I’ve outlined a few ways we can help our employees cope with the loss of a loved one.

Show compassion and empathy

Oftentimes, people are unsure about what they can do to help someone who is grieving.  While it’s understandable you may not want to do or say the wrong thing, there are some small and meaningful things you can do to extend your sympathies.  Some things I recommend doing include attending the funeral or service, sending a card or flowers on behalf of the organization, reaching out to your employee to let them know you are there for them, or even asking them what you can do to help them during this time.  Additionally, I highly suggest that a manager or higher up at your organization also reach out to them to reassure the employee that they are valued and supported.

Be respectful of the grieving process

Grieving is a process that takes time, and every person will grieve differently.  Although many organizations have a bereavement policy in place, some employees may not be ready to return to work after the allotted time while others may choose to return right away.  For this reason, I encourage you to be open with your employee about what their needs are, and provide them with the best possible accommodations you’re able to provide.  Grief experts recommend 20 days of bereavement leave for close family members.  Most bereavement policies are much shorter than this, so consider offering an extended leave if you’re able to do so, bearing in mind that some employees may want to return to work as soon as possible.

Adjust their workload accordingly

When an employee returns to work following the loss of a loved one, you may need to adjust their workload accordingly.  Prior to making any changes, I recommend consulting your employee for their input.  You may choose to offer flexible time off, extended deadlines, a reduced workload, or perhaps not assign any new tasks for the time being.  Be sure to approach this conversation using compassion and ensure your employee is aware that you’re offering these changes as a sign of respect and not punishment.

While the loss of a loved one is not an easy situation to deal with, it’s inevitable that we’ll all have to go through it some day.  Ensuring your employee feels supported during this time is of utmost importance.  I recommend approaching this situation as human-to-human first, followed by employer-to-employee.  For any of life’s hardships, including the loss of a loved one, I suggest referring them to their Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for additional, confidential support.