co-workers have to pick up the slack
in production.
Appropriate organizational policy,
procedures, culture, awareness, and
support are critical factors in helping
leaders balance the needs of grieving
individuals with the needs of the
organization. If these factors are in
place when an employee experiences
a crisis, leaders don’t have to guess
about how to manage the situation or
be torn between the organization’s
expectations and the individual’s
need for support.
Following are some issues that
leaders should consider when estab-
lishing policies and an organizational
culture that support grieving employ-
ees without excessively disturbing the
operation of the organization:
A realistic approach to bereave-
ment leave and the loss of a loved
one may require allowing more time
than the three days most companies
allow. Establish a list of family mem-
bers covered under the bereavement
leave policy, and consider whether
the organization should be flexible
enough to grant exceptions.
A special fund, catastrophic
leave bank, or employee loan
account can help grieving employees
with funeral and travel expenses and
time off.
A flexible work schedule can
help grieving employees who need to
seek counseling, help children adjust,
or take care of financial matters.
Employee assistance programs
can be valuable tools when employ-
ees, family members, and co-workers
need counseling.
Moser is benefits and process manager
in the Human Resources Group at
CCL in Greensboro. She is a certified
senior professional in human resources
and a certified benefits professional.
At any given time, one-fourth or
more of the workforce is grieving. It
may be sorrow over the death of a
loved one, a family member’s termi-
nal or debilitating illness, a divorce,
or some other traumatic life change.
Leaders inevitably face situations in
which they must balance offering
support to employees in these diffi-
cult circumstances with meeting the
needs of the organization. Doing this
requires walking a fine line, and a
leader’s effectiveness in this balanc-
ing act can make the difference
between retaining or losing valued
It’s not unusual for employers to
expect people to take a short time off
to deal with their grief but then get
on with business as usual. After all,
companies have production schedules
and quotas to meet. Similarly, co-
workers are often willing to be sup-
portive of a grieving individual for a
while but may begin to lose patience
if that person needs more time to
recover and return to functioning
“normally”—particularly when the
Supporting a grieving employee is
important, but leaders should also
have a plan in place for managing the
employee’s co-workers. Is there a
procedure for obtaining whatever
information the employee is willing
to share with the rest of the organiza-
tion? Can co-workers take time off to
attend a funeral or visit their grieving
colleague? If the employee will be
off the job for an extended period,
what are the leader’s options for
redistributing the workload equi-
tably? All these questions should be
answered beforehand, through organi-
zational policy.
Managing a situation in which an
employee is grieving over an outside
event is one thing, but what can
leaders do when it is the employee
who becomes seriously ill or dies?
Again, policy and organizational cul-
ture are critical.
Establish procedures for helping a
deceased employee’s family file for
death and pension benefits, for pro-
viding an at-work memorial service
and on-site counseling to help col-
leagues work through the healing
process, and for removing the
employee’s personal effects.
Perhaps the most important thing
leaders can do when people are griev-
ing is to be visible. Walk around,
communicate with people individu-
ally and in groups, and offer support.
These actions, when complemented
by established policy and a support-
ive organizational culture, are key to
meeting the needs of grieving
employees and their co-workers
while also maintaining an effective
and productive organization.
Editor’s note: Resource material for the
responses to this issue’s “Question of
Leadership” was provided by Hospice
and Palliative Care of Greensboro,
whose TLC in the Workplace™ program
addresses transitions and life changes.

Get A Question of Leadership: How Can Leaders Best Support Employees who Are Experiencing a Crisis away from Work-Such as a Death or Serious Illness in the Family-Yet also Continue to Meet the Needs of the Organization now with the O’Reilly learning platform.

O’Reilly members experience books, live events, courses curated by job role, and more from O’Reilly and nearly 200 top publishers.