Grief at work: Person holding hands of another person in sympathy

Touch base with any one of us here on any given day and you’ll most likely find us upbeat and positive. We really do believe in having fun at work. And we also believe in true connection: within our team and with our clients, vendors, and colleagues. We freely share our joys.

But we’re human, so the reality is we also need to share our sorrows.

Sad things do happen to happy people, after all.

Many work milestones happen in the presence of our coworkers. Yet, we spend so much time on the job (approximately 90,000 hours over a lifetime), it’s inevitable that life’s milestones happen there too!

At EPI we feel privileged to share our authentic lives with one another. Our daily huddles are full of the quotidian, the absurd, and the extraordinary. And, yes, sometimes the grief. Over the years, we’ve all lost loved ones—family, friends, and pets. Who hasn’t?

But what can you do when someone you work with is struggling with an excruciating life event?

Each of our team members has been on the receiving end of loss at one time or another, so we have some advice:

  • You may not be able to plan around someone’s grief, but you should make room for it. Work must continue, and deadlines must be met. But how about postponing a meeting or two? Or redistributing workloads?
  • Be kind. Create an environment where people feel safe expressing their sadness. If you work virtually, you can’t offer a literal shoulder to cry on, but you can listen and empathize.
  • Loss is a universal experience with very personal consequences. Don’t expect a one-size-fits-all reaction. Treat your team members as the individuals they are and with the respect they deserve. Take your cues from them.
  • Recognize that grief can be isolating. And feeling bereft can drain energy, focus, and motivation, particularly in the short term. Someone may appear to bounce back quickly, only to break down weeks later under seemingly innocuous circumstances. Exercise patience and understanding.
  • Acknowledge that grieving is not a one-time event to endure; it’s a process to work through. Provide adequate space and time for that process. Your team member may be dealing with a crisis that requires time away from the job, so be as gracious as possible with schedule changes. Companies are discovering that extending bereavement time is good business. Handle a grieving employee with empathy and flexibility and you’ll be rewarded with gratitude and loyalty.
  • Don’t say “Let me know if I can do something” and leave it at that. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, author of Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, gives this insight from her own tragedy: “Rather than offer to do something, it’s often better to do anything. Just do something specific.”

I’m proud to work with teammates who know how to support one another. It’s humbling to see how much caring and gentle humor shine through even in the midst of grief. It reminds me that a worthwhile life is about showing up for others. For the good, the bad, and even the downright sad.

“Real empathy is sometimes not insisting that it will be okay, but acknowledging that it is not.”

Sheryl Sandberg



photo of Michelle Kelly

Michelle Kelly, CEO (Chief Enjoyment Officer)


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