Grief can be an unstoppable force and each and every one of us will experience it in our lifetime, likely many times over. Leaders are in a unique position to provide support to their team in their time of need.

One of the biggest challenges a leader can face is the scenario of an employee who has just lost someone dear to them. How do you balance genuine remorse for the loss and concern for their wellbeing with the realities of running an organization?

A leader’s response at this most painful of junctures can endear them to the employee (and the team) or morph into the start of a long-term grudge. Here are some ways to express yourself in the best possible way, support your colleague, and let people see your real self.


Before all else, express your sympathies to the worker in private. Be genuine and ask if they will need support other than the bereavement leave allocated according to your company’s policies.

There is no golden rule but something similar to this will be appropriate: I am so sorry for your loss. The company understands what you are going through and we will extend our support to you in any way we can. Please let me know what else I can do to help you in this difficult time.

Contact your HR department and ensure that they do, in fact, allocate as much leave as is possible under the circumstances.

It is expected for a manager to announce the loss to the team, unless asked specifically not to by the employee concerned. This achieves two things. Firstly, the grieving worker’s teammates will be able to express their sympathies and solidarity with them. Secondly, the announcement prepares the team for the disruption to their schedules and targets that will inevitably follow.

Once the announcement has been made, coordinate with HR to have flowers and/or a card delivered. If the employee makes known the details of the funeral, try to attend or send a representative. The company may also wish to make a donation.

Follow Up

Hardly anyone will say that they received too much bereavement leave. Most will return to work when leave runs out because they have bills to pay and dependents to support.

Speak to them personally when they do return to see how they are coping. Contact HR so they can refer them to a grief counsellor, if needed, as well as offer other channels of support. Have a manager monitor the worker’s performance on the job so they can identify more serious issues before they take root.

Sometimes, it may be necessary to adjust their roles and responsibilities as they readjust.

However difficult managing a grieving employee may be, it is also an opportunity to ingrain yourself as a true leader in your employees’ eyes and earn enduring loyalty.

Supporting your grieving team member is not an easy or one-size-fits-all moment in your work as a leader. Please reach out today for help navigating this challenge.