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How to help a grieving employee

By Lynne Curry  bio

How do you, as a manager, best help an employee who loses a loved one? This is one hot potato that few medical office managers feel equipped to handle.

When tragedy befalls an employee, most of us don’t know what to say. As a result, we often say nothing. This creates a complete disconnect between the individual for whom everything has changed and his workplace, which today may represent the grieving employee’s extended family.

Reach out

Reach out to your employee, letting him know that you care and stand by him. Start with a simple statement such as “I am so very sorry.” Then, give your grieving employee all the kindness you can—including leaving him alone if he shows he needs that more than sympathy. Because no two grieving individuals handle tragedy similarly, take your employee’s lead in deciding what to do.

Prepare and allow for emotion

Grief creates a tide of emotions. Your employee may fall apart and will need your understanding. Your employee may descend into despair or flash out in anger. While this might be understandable, as a manager, you may need to set boundaries. For example, you could say, “Maybe you’d better take a personal leave day.” 

Allow others to give simple acts of kindness

One person’s grief also touches off sorrow in others. Because action helps ease this, coworkers may find it helpful to make concrete gestures that help their grieving coworker—from donating paid time off to his account to signing a condolence note.

Statements that minimize your employee’s overwhelming grief such as “You’ll get over it before you know it” backfire because they fall short when placed against tragic reality. Unless you truly do, avoid “I know just how you feel.” 

Similarly, mouthing the cliché “Let me know if I can do anything” does little for either person. Few grieving individuals can respond to an open-ended “You tell me what you need.”

Instead, those struck numb by grief rely on compassionate employers and coworkers to offer help in a way that lets them know they can ask for what they need. Helpful acts of kindness include offering to bring meals, take care of yard duties or walk the dog. You say with word and deed, “I know you need time to heal. You have my support.” 

Management reassurance

Managers can reassure grief-stricken employees by letting them take time off without jeopardizing their jobs. Those who return to work before they can concentrate often make things worse for themselves and hard on their coworkers.

You can also help the employee by dividing his work into three categories:

  • time sensitive matters;
  • work that can be tabled for a short time; and
  • routine tasks.

You may need to handle time-sensitive tasks yourself or parcel them out to other employees.

If an employee takes leave and then returns to work, ask that he first handle routine tasks until he gets his “sea legs” under him. Then ask him to tackle time-sensitive or tabled tasks. By relieving workload pressure and helping with prioritization, you smooth your employee’s re-entry into the workplace.


Grief opens up a Pandora’s box of issues and emotions. If this hot potato lands in your lap, take the lead in reaching out and smoothing the employee’s re-entry into the workplace.

Lynne Curry, PhD, author of “Beating the Workplace Bully,” AMACOM 2016, and “Solutions” regularly presents to the Medical Group Management Association, Alaska Chapter and provides services to multiple medical practices and hospitals. You can contact Curry @

The above information is shared by a guest contributor and does not necessarily reflect the views of Medical Office Manager.









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