How to say and do just the right thing when a co-worker loses a loved one

(BPT) – Knowing how to support a grieving co-worker can be one of the most challenging situations you face in your workplace. You want to express your sympathy and help your colleague, but you also don’t want to cross any professional boundaries.

In fact, guidance regarding expressions of sympathy in the workplace are among the most common requests for advice received by professional Sympathy Advisors. While individuals may be confident in how to show their happiness at joyful events like a birthday, marriage or retirement celebration, they’re less sure what to do when a co-worker has experienced a loss.

The online flower retailer’s “Grief in the Workplace: Guide to Expressing Sympathy Professionally” and sympathy and remembrance pages offer some good advice:

* Be guided by the closeness of your relationship with the bereaved co-worker. If you are close — you eat lunch together daily, work closely on projects — attendance at services may be appropriate and expected. If your relationship is more casual, with only occasional interactions, a group expression of sympathy with other co-workers could be acceptable.

* Group gifts can be sent to the co-worker’s home address. Appropriate options include floral arrangements, dish gardens, fruit baskets and gourmet food baskets.

* If you’ll be sending flowers to the funeral home, baskets and standing floral displays are good choices, as they are easiest for funeral home staff to arrange for services. When placing your order, be sure to include the correct name and spelling of the deceased, the delivery address of the funeral home, the street address of the family home, service times, and any specific requests of the family.

* Charitable contributions in the deceased’s name are also meaningful, professional ways to express sympathy. Check with the funeral home to see if the family has specified any charitable organizations for memorial contributions.

* A handwritten note or sympathy card can also be a compassionate, personalized way to express sympathy. It’s a good idea to keep your sentiment brief and simple. For example, you may write in your note “I’m so sorry for your loss. My thoughts are with you and your family.” Groups may send a joint card with a simple expression of empathy, such as “Our heartfelt condolences for your loss.”

* After a bereaved co-worker returns to the office, be mindful that everyone deals with grief differently. They may want to talk about their deceased loved one, or they may prefer not to discuss their loss. Be respectful of your co-worker’s feelings and do your best to give them the time and space they need to cope with their grief in their own way.

When a co-worker has lost a loved one, finding ways to express your sympathy is good for you and your bereaved colleague. Empathy can help your coworker cope more effectively, and help maintain the stability of workplace relationships.

For more guidance on expressing sympathy in the workplace, call’s Sympathy Customer Service line at (866) 538-2259, or visit the website’s sympathy and remembrance pages.

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