top of page
  • Writer's pictureNatalie Archibald

Part 1: Grief in the Workplace – The Leadership Perspective

Updated: Apr 23

Empowering leaders to support their teams through loss.

person sad in the office
Grief in the workplace

My best friend of 26 years died last year, and since then, I haven't been the same. This earth-shattering event has shifted me in ways I could not have imagined — including silencing me. I haven't been posting because many things have lost meaning outside my family, close friends, and clients. I'm still processing the loss, and I'm not ready to share with the world who my friend was, what happened, and the full extent of its impact on me and my loved ones, but what I do know is that I won't be able to fully connect with my community until I share that this devastating event happened. It happened, and hiding it doesn't help me, nor does it help you. 

So, I guess this post is me coming out of hiding and also acknowledging that navigating loss isn't easy. I hope that grief stops being taboo and that we don't feel shame for going through the motions. With 3-day bereavements and the expectations that employees continue to be top performers after a loss, there is so much shame and confusion around navigating grief in the workplace. Many organizations struggle with accommodating and acknowledging grieving people because the workplace is "just business," but that's a false narrative.

Nothing makes sense when you lose the people you love deeply. I realized today that I can't do my job for the broader community until I'm honest about where I am and that I have to address grief in the workplace because someone else might be struggling, too. 

Yes, I am a business and executive coach, but my special sauce is human connection. I believe work can't "work" if the human spirit isn't in alignment. When I coach my clients, I help them navigate the workplace and the personal challenges that impact workplace functionality. I've helped clients process grief to regain clarity, motivation, and purpose.

Grief and loss are immobilizing. How can you move forward while trying to make sense that someone you loved now exists in the past?

It's vital that business entities actively help their employees process grief to improve employee engagement. Studies show that when grief isn't addressed in the workplace, it can lead to emotional issues for employees and impact performance. A UK study shows: 

  • More than three-quarters of Britons admit to feeling pressured to stop or avoid talking about their grief.

  • At least a third claim to avoid talking about it because they "know it will make others uncomfortable."

  • Less than a third say that their employer has communicated with them about grief or bereavement in the past year. At the same time, a similar number admit that they don't know if their employer even has a bereavement policy.

So, what can you do as a leader to deal with grief in the workplace?

  1. Understand the Five Stages of Grief: Being a great leader means having the emotional intelligence to cope with people. Grief changes people, and it's essential to understand the different stages to comprehend your employees' mental state: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

  2. Flexibility: Consider implementing a flexible leave policy and creating a contingency plan to manage the employee's workload during their absence.

  3. Recognize the Complexity of Grief: Acknowledge that grief doesn't adhere to a neat timeline. People need more than three days to process a loss and attend to practical matters.

  4. Ask and Listen: Respectfully inquire if your employees need or want support. Everyone copes differently; some prefer privacy, while others appreciate acknowledgment and support.

  5. Acknowledge and Support: Let your employees know you acknowledge their loss and offer to listen or provide access to support resources. Denial can be jarring and insensitive, so demonstrating empathy goes a long way.

  6. Ease Back into Work: Be gentle and gradually reintegrate grieving employees into their work. Avoid assigning high-pressure tasks immediately and provide ongoing support and check-ins.

  7. Address Long-Term Impact: Monitor employee performance during the grief period and adapt as necessary. Some may need additional support or a temporary shift in responsibilities.

Grief is a universal and unique experience that we must honor in the workplace and our personal lives. As a coach, I lead with a people-centered approach that focuses on human connection. With that approach, my clients must know I can support them not only because of my expertise but also because I can empathize and relate.

Leaders have a responsibility to their people, starting with authenticity and care. Businesses must take care of their people to maximize their engagement and loyalty. People will only care about your business as much as you care about them.

Please share your thoughts about grief in the workplace. As a leader, how do you manage loss on your team? What boundary issues do you see in addressing grief?

The five stages of grief that leaders should understand are:


bottom of page