Bereavement Support Line 1800 80 70 77

Supporting a bereaved colleague

You can play an important role, along with family, friends and your employer, in helping a bereaved colleague find their way through the grieving process. Support from colleagues and the workplace can make a difficult situation less painful.

Each person’s grief is unique and people deal with their losses in different ways.

Some want to talk to their colleagues about what has happened while others are more private. It’s important to respect this and be sensitive to the person’s needs.

Health and safety

Grief can affect concentration and energy levels. If the bereaved person’s job involves activities where safety is an issue, it’s important to discuss this with the person and where appropriate, to seek health and safety advice.

Types of bereavement support

People who are grieving may need different types of support. These can be explained using the pyramid of bereavement support below.

Pyramid of Bereavement Support

Level 1

Grief is normal after bereavement and most people manage without professional intervention. At this level, people need information on what to expect in the grieving process, practical help with tasks and social support (like being available to listen to a bereaved colleague, go for a coffee with them, including them in social activities, etc)

Level 2

Some people may require a more formal opportunity to review and reflect on their loss experience, but this doesn’t necessarily have to involve professionals. Volunteer bereavement support workers/befrienders, self-help groups, faith groups and community groups provide a lot of the support at this level.

Level 3

A minority of people will require specialist interventions. These can include psychotherapy, counselling, psychological and medical services

The role of the workplace in providing bereavement support

What is helpful:

  • Acknowledge the person’s loss. Even though you may feel uncomfortable and might not know exactly what to say, it’s much better to acknowledge your colleague’s loss than to say nothing. Phrases like “I’m so sorry for your loss” or “I can’t find the words to tell you how sorry I am” are better. More important than words are your concern and compassion.
  • Let the bereaved person be your guide. Even though you may think you know what they’re going through, it’s better to check first and allow them to tell you
  • Ask the person who is bereaved how best you can be of support to them.
  • Listen. Very often it’s hard to know what you can do for a colleague who is grieving, but one thing that really makes a difference is making time to listen to them.
  • Practical help. Ask your colleague if there are things you can do that would help like sharing their workload, picking up their children after school or going for a coffee with them.
  • Find out what other bereavement supports (Level 2 and 3) are available in your workplace or locally and if your bereaved person asks about these, gently inform them of what is available.

What is not helpful

  • Avoiding the bereaved person and acting as if nothing has happened – something has happened and it’s better to be open about this.
  • Minimising the loss. Phrases like “he had a good innings” or “it’s a happy release” are not helpful. You don’t know the significance of the loss for the person and it’s better not to assume.
  • Making a fuss. Most bereaved people want to be treated as normally as possible at work and don’t want to stand out. Be sensitive and respect their wishes.
  • Expecting the person to be back to normal. People never go ‘back to normal’ because normal included the person who has died. In time, they will adapt to a ‘new normal’.

Visit our Education & Training section for information on current workshops and customised training for Grief in the Workplace.

Read more about the theory behind the IHF Grief in the Workplace programme in our Bereavement & Loss hub.