Handling grief at workplace may be simple as listening

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URBANA, Ill. – If a coworker is crying or grieving in other ways for the loss of a spouse or child a year following the death, would you: a) Let them talk about the loss and share in their memories; or b) Tell them it has been a year, so it’s time to get on with life.

If you chose the first approach your helpful actions will provide support to your coworker. Yet, too many people would take the second, according to Ann Marie Marshall, University of Illinois Extension educator, family life.

“Sometimes people are not as sensitive as they could be when coworkers are experiencing grief,” she said. ” It doesn’t help a person in grief to tell them to get over it. With significant losses, you may never get over it. Issues can come up any time for years following the loss event.”

Will carry over.

Although most losses occur in the personal side of life, a grieving individual may experience sadness, irritability and other emotions at the workplace, or show a lack of motivation, withdraw socially, or talk repetitively about the loss. These are normal grief reactions that typically lessen over time.

Grief is a process that takes time, and no one can set a limit on how long it will take to work through the process, Marshall said. Sometimes grief begins prior to a loss, such as when a spouse or a parent is terminally ill. Different types of losses can affect the way a person handles work situations.

It is important for coworkers to acknowledge the loss when a person is grieving. Simply talking with the person and allowing them to talk about the loss can provide significant support.

“Allow the person to tell their story without judging it or giving advice,” said Marshall.

Listening is key.

Often, people don’t know what to say to others who are grieving, so they avoid them, Marshall said. Listening and allowing them to express their grief is key.

A grieving person doesn’t want solutions, advice, or pat answers from coworkers. Try to avoid saying: “I know how you feel,” You’ll get over it,” “Time heals,” or “You have to be strong.”

Also, don’t ask “is there anything I can do?” An open-ended offer puts the burden on the bereaved. They have enough burdens, Marshall said. Instead, offer to do something specific, such as cut the grass, wash the car, get groceries, or pick the person up to go to the movies.

If you don’t know what to say, try saying, “Tell me how you feel,” “Let me listen,” or “This must be very difficult for you.”

Most importantly, stay connected, Marshall said.

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