Grief is never far away. The person opposite you on the subway. Your server at the coffee place. Someone around you is in grief. But in this post-pandemic world, grief is a more constant companion.

According to research by the World Economic Forum, roughly 4.5% of all American workers are grieving a loved one today. The world losses millions of people every day, and surrounding every one of those people is a network of loved ones grieving the loss.

With so many of us navigating grief while also trying to find our way at work, leaders are in a unique position. They can turn away and ignore the reality of grieving employees, or they can turn toward those co-workers and create an environment that supports and accepts them. Here’s how:

1. Practice empathy.

Studies of successful leaders have suggested that this group often struggles with practicing empathy. However, empathy is becoming one of the most sought-after business skills, especially in leaders, because it helps employees feel engaged and appreciated, improves communication, and builds team power.

Empathy training has become a workplace trend in recent years, but you don’t need to take a special course to become better at using empathy. You can simply work to heighten the empathy that already exists in your workplace. If you want some extra skills, managers and colleagues can be trained in empathy skills, such as active listening.

The most important thing to do to foster empathy is to encourage open and honest communication, in which employees feel safe to express their emotions and share their grief experiences.

2. Provide resources.

People who are grieving are going to need a lot of support, both at home and at work. Donna Byrd, founder of BlueButterfly, which uses technical expertise and deep knowledge of the grieving process to create memorable, heartfelt tributes that capture the personality and character of each unique individual, explains, “Often, employers don’t know the best way to manage the grief of their staff when an employee dies. Once the death announcement has been made and the office of the person has been cleared out, the staff is expected to carry on as usual. The reality is that this seldom happens. ‘Work families’ grieve the death of a co-worker just like many grieve the death of a friend. The difference is a friend or family member will receive support from their community, and frequently, a co-worker is left feeling alone and unable to adequately express their grief.”

One amazing thing you can do as a leader is to provide lots of different resources, making them super accessible to your team so that individuals don’t have to go seeking out resources when they’re at their most vulnerable. These resources could include grief counseling, support groups, or an employee assistance program (known as EAP). You could also create a dedicated space, either physically or virtually, where employees can find grief and loss information or just hang out peacefully if they need a break.

Byrd further shares how companies should help in the grieving process: “We encourage companies to host internal memorial services to allow a supportive environment for co-workers to express their appreciation and grief for their lost co-worker. These corporate memorial services can include tributes from fellow team members, readings or speeches that help acknowledge their grief, or an open space for stories of the co-worker.” Byrd adds, “This will allow for people to honor their friend, experience collective grief and support, and feel like the company cared about the employee and helped the rest of the team find closure.”

3. Be patient and flexible.

The one thing we know for sure about grief? It won’t follow the same timeline for everyone. Grief doesn’t just fade or disappear. It goes on. It changes and shifts, yes, but it can also resurge. Someone might feel a little better one day, and a whole lot worse the next.

It can be helpful for leaders to remind their team members that grief affects people differently and can have a long-term impact. Simply showing that you understand and that you’re ready to be patient, no matter what form their grief takes, will be comforting.

You can also set up practical responses to longer-term grief. Accommodate employees’ changing needs during the grieving process by offering flexible work arrangements, including flexible hours, remote work options, or extended bereavement leave.

4. Promote self-care.

In the wake of the pandemic, employee wellness is getting the attention it deserves. People are more aware of the things outside of work they need to feel well and productive, from exercise to solitude to healthier boundaries and positive self-talk.

When people are grieving, self-care can go out the window, but it is even more important to make time for wellness in the midst of grief. You can encourage employees to prioritize self-care and provide them with opportunities to recharge and heal. This can include stress management and coping strategy workshops, wellness programs, and mindfulness initiatives. Encourage employees to take breaks as needed and foster a supportive environment that prioritizes mental and emotional well-being.

Grief can be uncomfortable and complicated, but it can (and must) have a place in our offices and workspaces. Grief is something we will all share at some point in our lives, but so many of us are struggling to put grief aside when we head to work. Instead, focus on bringing your team together and make space for people to be themselves, even when they’re at their lowest.


  • Brittany Hodak

    Keynote Speaker and Author

    Brittany Hodak is an award-winning entrepreneur, author, and customer experience speaker who has delivered keynotes across the globe to organizations including American Express and the United Nations. She has written hundreds of articles for Forbes, Adweek, Success, and other top publications; she has appeared on programs on NBC, CBS, ABC, and CNN; and she has worked with some of the world’s biggest brands and entertainers, including Walmart, Disney, Katy Perry, and Dolly Parton. She originated the role of Chief Experience Officer at, and she founded and scaled an entertainment startup to eight figures before exiting. Entrepreneur magazine calls her “the expert at creating loyal fans for your brand.” Brittany’s debut book, Creating Superfans, will be in stores on January 10, 2023.