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How to deal with a colleague who is grieving when he-she comes back to work

It doesn't help to treat people as if you were coming back from vacation and pretend nothing happened. But on the other hand, to stop laughing or talking when the person comes into the room doesn't make the atmosphere warmer

Imagem: Taylor Jacobs

A co-worker has gone through a loss and you do not know what to do about it. It’s always good to remember that each struggle is unique and that the moment requires, first and foremost, respect and sensitivity. No matter if you have more or less intimacy with the person, it is essential to express your feelings as soon as I see him. It is best to say “I’m sorry” and ask if there is something in the work that you can do.

If in doubt about how to act, do not hesitate to seek the company’s HR and ask guidance. If  it  is a small company, talk to the manager or with other colleagues and combine a respectful and welcoming procedure. As in any type of adversity of life, grief is viewed differently by people. Some people want to dive into the work as a way to feel that life resumes its course after losing a loved one. But others need more time and isolation or return to work and wouldn`t feel able to carry out their tasks with equal efficiency and speed. Up to the administrator, duly guided by the human resources department, or in the case of a small company, for professionals able to provide care in such situations, talk to the employee and match the best way to work for a while. Colleagues should act with respect but should not change the rhythm or any lightness and joy environment due to the bereaved one . It is advisable that people show understanding but don`t adopt a disturbed attitude towards the bereaved one.

As in any relationship with a grieving person, colleagues should not charge the speed recovery nor give any advice on that. Here is a list of what helps and does not help in the workplace.


– Request guidance to HR or leadership on how to act with colleague in his return.

– Express your feelings as soon as the person returns, a simple and direct way. “I am so sorry for your loss”. “My condolences” enough. Many people fail to say the basics because they think they need to prepare very special phrases when a genuine and brief expression is a sufficiently delicate gesture and welcome.

– Do not ask specific questions about what happened, but stand ready to listen if the colleague wants to speak

– Offer help, if possible, to make the return lighter.

– If it is a child, call for a frank conversation and match, if possible, a lighter work routine.

– If the bereaved occupies a high-pressure position, which requires commitment and full attention, talk to him and match a possible temporary function removal or extra assistance if necessary.

– Invite the colleague for coffee or offer to lunch.

– Speak normally about any subject. The bereaved doesn`t  want to talk only about the suffering.

– Have more patience and tolerance in relation to performance, schedules and absences.

Doesn’t help

– Pretend that nothing happened and receive colleague like he was “coming back from vacation.”

– Stop laughing, talk or tell jokes if the bereaved person approaches.

– Try to encourage the worker to quickly overcome grief with kind expressions.

– Storytelling other losses and make comparisons between the cases.

– Avoid the bereaved in the corridors and coffee as if he suffered from a contagious disease. Grief does not “catch”.

– Demonstrate exasperation if he is doing the job with less energy or efficiency.

– Speaking of the bereaved colleague and his loss in the back gossip tone.