Kind, cautious approach can help co-workers deal with grief

Posted: Sunday, July 31, 2005

Most people spend so much time at work that they come to regard their co-workers as family. That's why it's important to act the right way when someone you work with goes through a difficult situation, like a death in the family or a divorce.

Susan Harrow, the Oakland, Calif.-based author of "Sell Yourself Without Selling Your Soul" (HarperResource, $15.95), says that it's not always about what you say, but the spirit in which you say it.

"Often we don't know the right thing to say, so we don't say anything, which is the worst thing you can do," Harrow says. "Give a simple, 'I'm sorry to hear about your mom. Is there anything I can do to make it easier for you here at work this week?'"

Express your sympathy and offer assistance if you can provide it.

"Don't assume anything about how someone feels or make comments like, 'You must feel terrible,'" says Harrow. "Only take responsibility for your own feelings and extend heartfelt compassion."

Helping hand

One way to provide assistance is to help them manage their workload.

"If a co-worker needs some time off to grieve, manage affairs or just get their head back together, offer to take on some of his or her workload so they can get back in the game," says Lonnie Pacelli, a management/HR consultant in Seattle, Wash.

Pacelli says you should also consider sending a card or flowers.

"If appropriate for the situation, like if there was a death, send a brief note or flowers just to let your co-worker and their family know you're thinking of them," says Pacelli. "It doesn't have to be very expensive, and that extra bit of effort will mean a ton."

You can also organize to have meals brought over to their house for a week or so. While helping out in these ways will almost always be appreciated, there may be times where it's best for you not to offer assistance, but rather to help your co-worker find the right person to help them.

- Rob Kallick



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