Want to Help a Grieving Co-Worker? Be Sure to Avoid These Phrases

Andrea Yingling

Last week, I shared the first of a three-part interview with Andrea Yingling, Bereavement Coordinator for the AseraCare Hospice. This week, we continue the interview. Remember to watch this video to learn what grief can look like in the place and how one can recognize grief in an employee or co-worker.

What can a co-worker or colleague do to help one someone who is grieving?

There are several different circumstances for this response.  It will depend on if the co-worker lost someone in their personal life, or if it was someone in the work environment who died.  If it’s within the company, this will also depend on the size of the company, and the type of working relationship one had with the individual.  Was it your co-worker’s loved one?  Was it a co-worker that you had daily interaction with?  Or was it a CEO or the VP of the company?

If it was your co-worker who lost someone in their personal life, your response is going to depend on how well you know them or how comfortable you feel approaching them about the topic.  It’s important to make Human Resources aware of the situation, as well as the individual’s boss, if they don’t already know.  This will allow their management to take the necessary actions in offering support and services.  If you feel comfortable approaching them or have a good relationship with them, offer them your support and care.  There’s nothing specific you can say to someone who has experienced a loss, because, frankly, you don’t really know how they truly feel.

People assume a lot of the time and say expressions that are unsettling to the bereaved.  Unless they tell you directly how they feel, never assume.  Avoid any expressions such as, “It will get better from here,”  “They are in a better place,”  “It’s a blessing,”  “There’s a reason for everything.”  These expressions, and others, are the last thing a bereaved individual wants to hear.  Also, how do you know these statements are true?  As humans, we try to use typical expressions to make others feel better.  But these are the last things you should say to someone.

Support your co-worker by sending them a card, a floral arrangement, or a fruit basket.  Let them know you are thinking about them.  Attend the funeral, if you feel comfortable.  Just having your presence will allow the bereaved to feel they are cared about and supported.  Words aren’t always necessary.

If it was a co-worker or a managerial figure that died, this impacts not just one person, but usually a good number of people.  It not only impacts the workflow, the work dynamics, and the productivity, but it also impacts each person individually, emotionally, physically, or psychologically.  It is important to talk with other co-workers and offer support to one another.  Also, speak with your manager or boss, and let them know how you are feeling.  Relay any funeral or memorial service information to others, and attend if able.  Talk with your boss or management about receiving group support, and discuss a work acknowledgement, a memorial service, or a debriefing session.  Invite a bereavement or grief specialist to support the work team and offer any specialized services needed.  Make sure to also utilize employee assistance programs through the HR Dept.  Also, let other co-workers and employees know how the work environment is being impacted by this loss, and present the changes to everyone is a sufficient and timely manner.

Andrea Yingling is a Certified Grief Counselor currently working as a Bereavement Coordinator for AseraCare Hospice.Our website for our office is:

Specializing with dementia and Alzheimer’s patients, Andrea has helped hundreds of families cope with difficult life situations, as well as the loss of a family member.  Listening, coaching, and engaging people in her educational programs is key to her leadership approach.  Her common sense style lets participants examine the grieving process by “taking a step back and viewing the situation from a fresh new perspective”.

She has a Masters of Art in Thanatology and a Bachelors of Science in Long-Term Care Administration. She works closely with funeral homes, cemeteries, senior centers, skilled nursing facilities, assist living facilities, and other community resources.  She has educated funeral directors on different grieving subjects across the state of PA through Pennsylvania Funeral Director’s Association.  She was recently recognized as Employee of the Quarter in 2011.

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