Grief and the workplace: Balancing productivity and healing

The deep sorrow that follows losing a loved one can seem impossible to balance with everyday work obligations. Many companies expect employees to compartmentalize grieving and be productive. But grief has a physical and emotional impact that can't simply be switched off. Employees need sufficient support to grieve healthily while maintaining job performance. With empathy and flexibility, managers can create an environment where employees feel safe being transparent about grief, taking needed time off, and adjusting their workload as they heal.
By illume Editorial Team
Last updated: Oct 25, 2023
3 min read
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Understanding Grief’s Impact at Work

Grief affects concentration, decision-making, motivation and energy levels in normal work routines. Common experiences include:

  • Lack of focus resulting in errors or missed deadlines
  • Reduced drive to start projects or interact with co-workers
  • Frequent lateness or absenteeism
  • Crying spells or isolation during the workday
  • Anger towards customers, clients or managers
  • Plummeting productivity and performance

These issues result from the biological impact of grief. The body produces stress hormones that disrupt sleep, appetite and mental focus. Processing painful emotions also drains energy needed for everyday functioning.

Grieving employees aren’t being lazy or melodramatic. They’re struggling with a devastating life change. Compassionate accommodation of grief is simply good management. It helps employees maintain job stability during vulnerable times.

Best Practices for Managers

Managers play a key role in shaping workplace culture around grief.

Some good strategies include:

  • Offer flexible scheduling or remote work options to accommodate needs. Employees may benefit from arriving later, leaving early, or working different hours.
  • Adjust deadlines or workload expectations temporarily to ease pressure.
  • Encourage regular breaks to regroup emotions. Going for a short walk can help clear the mind.
  • Provide comfortable, private spaces for employees who need a moment alone to cry or express feelings.
  • Refrain from criticizing declines in productivity. Motivate with encouragement, not shame.
  • Suggest counseling through an employee assistance program (EAP). Many grieving employees benefit from therapy.
  • Being transparent about accommodating grief destigmatizes it in workplace culture. No employee should feel like they need to hide their mourning or work beyond their limits.

Self-Care Tips for Grieving Employees

You have a responsibility to yourself and your employer to grieve in a way that supports your work performance.

Some self-care strategies include:

  • Communicate Needs Inform your manager of how grief affects your work and discuss possible accommodations. Most bosses want to help.
  • Take Time Off Using sick days or bereavement leave allows you to fully focus on grieving without job distractions.
  • Set Boundaries Don’t overload yourself. Say no to non-essential tasks and guard against overcommitting.
  • Try Counseling Therapy is tremendously helpful for building coping skills and processing grief. Many companies offer free sessions through an EAP.
  • Practice Stress Management Relaxation practices like deep breathing, meditation, or yoga can alleviate some grief’s physical strain.
  • Maintain Healthy Habits Make sleep, nutrition, hydration and exercise a priority. Grief can disrupt self-care routines.
  • Adjust Slowly As you heal, gradually ramp workloads back up instead of plunging in full force.
  • Grieve Openly Let yourself cry and feel emotions, rather than bottling them up all day at your desk. Support groups can help.

No employee should have to “get over” grief on a rushed timeline. Listen to your needs. Take things step-by-step with your employer’s support. Protecting your long-term health and earning potential has to be the priority.

When Grief Requires Leave

Some losses like the death of a spouse or child may necessitate taking extended bereavement leave. Consult your company policy and don’t be afraid to take all the time outlined, even if unpaid. Rushing back to work too soon can impair healing and end up decreasing productivity in the long run. Some additional options include:

  • Taking extended sick leave or FMLA. You need time to physically and emotionally recuperate.
  • Asking colleagues to donate PTO hours to you. Many will gladly help.
  • Discussing making up hours gradually upon return or using credit hours.
  • Taking unpaid leave if needed. Protecting your mental health has to come first.

Managers should avoid pressuring employees around using allotted bereavement leave. Everyone deserves time to grieve free of financial burdens. With good planning, work responsibilities can be covered during periods of leave.


Losing a loved one while maintaining a job is extremely difficult. With empathy, flexibility and open communication, companies can develop grief-friendly policies to retain valued talent during life’s hardest moments. No one should be made to feel like their mourning is a burden or hindrance to business goals. Accommodating grief is simply part of good leadership and cultivating a humane workplace.