Dealing with Loss in the Workplace


By Shontel Zamora

Dealing with the loss of a loved one is never easy. It is usually met with a large show of support during the first initial days and weeks. There are tons of books and resources dedicated to help those who are coping with the loss of a family member or close friend, yet what happens when you experience a loss in the office?

Unfortunately, due to recent events in my professional life, I have had to learn to navigate through this situation. How do you manage to support the employee’s family? How do you support the staff who now must work through their grieving process? How do you remain sensitive to the situation while working out the logistics of deceased person’s job tasks?

With everything in life, there is a great amount of variance to each situation. Sometimes the person passes away at home, sometimes it happens in the office, sometimes it’s a sudden loss, while other times you knew the person was in poor health. Sometimes the employee was new and hadn’t built up connections yet, while others had been with the agency for years.

Unfortunately, our loss was in the physical office and sudden. Many employees couldn’t bring themselves to return to the same workspace. Our office found themselves grieving someone whom they had worked with every day for more than 20 years. Like with all stages of grief, we experienced denial, anger towards the situation, and so on. Yet, there was a part of this particular type of loss that just felt different. This person was not a family member, but we had seen them every day just like our family at home. Typically, this is not something you learn how to navigate through with a training. There is no guidebook that dictates what you should do or say. We had to work through relocating our office, find ways to support the family, supply grief counselors to our staff, all the while still providing good customer service. I can honestly say, it’s hard when your whole team is experiencing the same loss at the same time. Most instances of personal loss allow employees to take the bereavement time they need, but what happens when your whole team needs bereavement? Who manages the angry calls over parking permit prices and citations?

In our particular experience, we closed our offices for short periods of time, but not enough to truly work through the loss. In the end, we weren’t perfect in navigating this situation, but we did the best we could. One of the things that helped our team was being honest about our feelings with one another, whether it was the sadness we felt while cleaning out the space and walking by the now-empty cubicle, or the anger and protectiveness we now had toward a position that needed to be filled by a possible stranger. We supported each other by giving each other space, privacy, and time away from the office when we needed to compose ourselves after customers asked for our deceased co-worker by name. We gave each other grace when our emotions were already running high, and we were frustrated at the disgruntled customer. Yet, I think the most important thing we have done during this time is to check in on one another to make sure each one of us is okay. It could be months or years before our office feels normal again, if that’s even possible, but what I to share is that if your team ever experiences a loss in the workplace, the most important thing you can do is to simply be there for each other.

Shontel Zamora is a budget analyst for the California State University at San Bernardino, and a member of the IPMI Education Development Committee. She can be reached at