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  • Janeen Shaffer, PCC

Resources when grief shows up in the workplace

This past year has offered many experiences of blessings and challenges. Some of those challenges include loss and grief. People have experienced the loss of loved ones, loss of normalcy, loss of health, and loss of a job to name a few. Grief is not a topic that many openly talk about and it is certainly not a topic often discussed at work. However, the flood of loss and grief being experienced in different forms over the past year may be showing up in your work environment undetected. There are wonderful resources on grief that offer helpful tools and comforting information that can serve as an asset for you.

What are signs of grief?

The groundbreaking work of psychiatrist Dr. Elizabeth Kubler Ross in 1969 identified five stages of grief in her book, On Death and Dying. The stages are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. These stages are not experienced on a linear timeline and they are not completed at a designated point. Everyone experiences these stages differently, but the commonality of the stages remains the same. Later, a sixth stage was added by David Kessler and identified as “meaning”, described as finding meaning in the loss. The sixth stage provides an opportunity to find personal meaning in your loss. For some, this has included remembrance rituals. For others, it has include providing a community service in honor of the loved ones. For David Kessler, who worked closely with Dr. Kubler Ross and co-authored a best-selling book with her called, On Grief and Grieving, the sixth stage was something important to add to the original framework after he experienced the untimely loss of his son.

When you think about the work environment, the stages of grief can appear in your behavior or with someone on your team as:

- More impatient, agitated or snappy towards things or people that aren’t usually a frustration

- Inability to focus on simple and complicated tasks that were not a challenge before

- More tired and less endurance to continue through the pace of the day

- Apathetic towards people or things that used to create energy or engagement

- Difficulty in prioritizing because there is a feeling that whatever action is taken has little or no impact and meaning anymore

- Feeling like the people at work are moving forward and you aren’t moving with them

If you recognize these signs consistently, it is a sign that you or a team member could benefit from more support.

What helps support grief?

Since we don’t commonly talk about grief, it can feel difficult. Over time, grief can morph from being unbearable and move into a place where you better support yourself while honoring your loved one or something you lost. Some of the suggestions from Dr. Kubler Ross, David Kessler and complicated grief therapy include:

- Create safety – Establish boundaries by limiting the people, places and things that cause you stress. Surround yourself with people who comfort and respect you, allowing others to be kind to you.

- Create a routine – In the midst of everything changing, it is helpful to establish routines around eating, sleeping, and seeking activities that you enjoy.

- Journal – Write down what you are feeling in free form, without judgment or grammatical correctness. The ability to write down my anger, sadness, and gratitude was a form of releasing and honoring my emotions and experiences.

- Recognize what things continue – Recognizing what is stable and present for you can be helpful. Trees are blooming, the ocean is breaking waves, you are still breathing, and you still love chocolate and potato chips. All of this can be a gentle reminder that you are here and beauty and joy are around you.

- Move – Exercise and movement can be very helpful for processing emotions through and out of your body. For me, yoga and walking were therapeutic to calm my thoughts and to rekindle my sense of empowerment. is a resource that offers online classes and material to help with the physical and emotional effects of grief.

- Talk with someone – It can be helpful to talk with a therapist that specializes in grief and understands the different types of grief (Types of Grief) so that their support is targeted specifically to your journey.

What information is available?

While experiencing the loss of a parent, I found it empowering to know more about the stages of grief. As a leader, the information helped me recognize my behavior and identify what I needed to do for self-care so I could be at work in a way that allowed me to perform, while still grieving. The grief information helped me to support peers and team members also wrestling with grief. The two books I mentioned above are helpful resources. Also, offers videos, articles, workshops, and a free Facebook group to join. One of the most useful pieces of information is a section called Best and Worst Things to Say. Finally, the Harvard Business Review published an article with David Kessler called, Helping Your Team Heal in the summer of 2020. The Wall Street Journal recently interviewed David Kessler and the article provides helpful and compassionate reminders of living and working with grief. Wall Street Article.

Grief is tough - and it provides an opportunity to create meaningful change. You can live your life in a way that honors a loved one lost while also honoring the life you have ahead of you. I hope these resources are helpful when you find a need for them.

Janeen Shaffer is a PCC certified coach helping individuals and leaders with their internal development and external performance. If the article resonated with you, follow me on LinkedIn and check my other articles. Contact me at,, IG @janeen.shaffer, Pinterest Shaffer Coaching + Consulting.

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