The Issue

Employees are working and also grieving, but often, fellow employees don’t know what to say.

Dealing with employee loss and grief plays a central role in workplace wellbeing. This role has become even more important because of the pandemic. Loss may be experienced by the employee themselves, including death of a loved one or of extended family members and friends. Loss can also relate to other factors such as divorce, family crisis, or the death of a beloved pet. As well, it can relate to caregiver stress and burnout.

Grief is frequently connected to loss and we recognize that there are employees who are working and also grieving. Often, we do not know how to talk to someone who is grieving – what should I say, if anything?

Studies show that grieving employees who are not supported at work lost an average of 30 work days a year. Research indicates that 1 in 4 people are grieving at work right now, and the death of one person has an impact on at least five other individuals. The impact of the pandemic will continue to have a long-term impact on work environments – on mental health, workplace wellness and work-life balance.

Our Action

We lead initial discussions and conversations about grief and loss in workplaces.

Compassionate Ottawa helps organizations enhance their work environment and become more compassionate in working with issues of grief and loss in the workplace. Recognizing and supporting the challenges that employees may be facing can enhance overall organizational wellness and strengthen employee engagement.

The offerings that we have developed place emphasis on employee engagement in the design of a learning experience which explores what is working well, as well as ideas to create a more supportive and compassionate work environment. Compassionate Ottawa facilitators lead initial discussions and conversations about grief and loss, how to support our colleagues, and build understanding and awareness of workplace wellness.

A recent case will serve as an illustration. We worked with a large Ottawa based health provider in bringing together a small group of employees to explore the interest and benefit for such an initiative. The result was positive and this led to a workshop of 30 supervisors to explore the subject in more detail. The next step was to put together a small group to discuss a plan for moving forward, which is currently underway.

Our Impact

Workshop participants valued having a safe place to share their stories and discuss how their organization could do more to become a compassionate workplace.

The supervisory workshop described above more than achieved its objectives. Employees have stories to tell, both workplace-related grief and loss as well as personal stories. They valued a safe place to share these stories and to discuss how their organization could do more to help become a compassionate workplace.

Here is what the CEO of the organization said:
“Compassionate Ottawa facilitators created a safe space for our leaders to openly express their personal and professional struggles with dying, death, grief and loss. To have dedicated time to share and grieve these experiences with their peers was well received and much appreciated. CO helped us see the value in our building this process into our organizational culture and wellness offerings.”

Elements of a workplace initiative built on creating a more compassionate environment for those dealing with dying, death and grief may include:

  • Workshops on topics such as Advance Care Planning / Conversations about later life wishes
  • Workshops / Conversations focused on dealing with grief and loss; challenges with caregiver support
  • Developing materials for an organization’s intranet site providing self-help on topics such as how to talk with someone who is grieving
  • A review of workplace practices on topics such as caregiver and bereavement support


In our workplace we had the son of one of our employees (his mother) die over a drug overdose and no one knew what to say to her when she returned to work.

In our workplace I am the person who is in charge of ordering flowers and writing the cards of condolence. I never know what to say on the cards so I Google the topic to get ideas.

Get involved

Contact us to organize an exploratory discussion on how your workplace can become more compassionate in helping those who are dealing with caregiving, dying, death, grief and loss.

For more information

You can download a PDF with more information from Compassionate Ottawa about workplaces in our resources section.

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Resource materials

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