Three Signs your Employee is Suffering from Grief  

If you are a boss and manage employees, an employee grieving the loss of someone they love will absolutely impact every area of our lives, including their work.

After my son’s funeral, I stayed home for a week before I realized that I needed to get back to work.  I needed something to do.  As a motivated and driven sales employee, I took pride in my work and what I achieved.  My work was a large part of my life and how I defined who I was as a person.  At work, I was accomplished, successful and self-assured.

But when my son passed away, my grief left me feeling unsure of myself, fearful and shaken.  My sense of self had been shaken at its core.  I didn’t feel confident and self-assured anymore.  I felt weak and defeated, incompetent to help myself and contribute anything meaningful at work.

“But I pushed on, went back to work, told everyone I’d be fine.”

I found a way to get through each day, happy for even a moment’s distraction from my grief.  Each day I worked hoping that I’d find myself again.  I did my best to be the employee I knew myself to be, but it wasn’t easy to keep focused on my work.

I was surprised when my boss and colleagues didn’t seem to understand what I was experiencing.  Instead of acknowledging my loss like I wanted, they told me I was strong and would “get through this”.  They told me I could have another son and I’d be okay.  But I didn’t want to be okay.  All I wanted was the son I had just lost.

After about 2 months, my boss and my colleagues never mentioned my son again.  They forgot my loss.  They acted as if it was over.  They had moved on and they assumed I did too.

But grieving my son was far from over for me.  Each day, I did my work, silently consumed with an overwhelming sense of sadness.  I was frustrated with myself because I couldn’t focus like I used to.  I didn’t feel driven and motivated anymore.  I needed help and didn’t know how to ask for it.

If you are a boss and manage employees, here are three signs they are still suffering from grief.

  • Your employee may forget what they are saying, forget to follow up, or apologize for missing regular meetings. Grief affects employees mentally as well as emotionally.  Signs of forgetfulness, loss of concentration and decreased focus are common in grief.


  • Your employee begins working much less or much more than is typical. Grieving requires tremendous emotional and mental energy that can cause an employee to disengage from work.   If they don’t seem to be working at the level they once were, they may be experiencing grief.  On the contrary, an employee whom suddenly begins working far more than is typical can be in avoidance of their grief and using work to prevent dealing with it.


  • Your employee’s relationships change dramatically. Grief can create feelings of uncertainty and cause a loss of confidence.  Feeling unsure of themselves and their abilities can lead to an employee isolating themselves from others.   If an employee stops engaging with the team, it can be a sign of grief.

To help your employee, be sure to acknowledge their grief, be supportive and talk about what is best for your employee at scheduled, regular intervals.  Some employees work better with increased responsibilities, some are better with less.  And, as the grieving process ensues, these may change.  Acknowledging their grief and listening to their needs at work will give them the confidence they need to get back to work.  Don’t avoid.  Don’t give advice.  Listen for what they need and they may even find productivity useful to their healing process.

Catherine McNulty