illustration: 3 warning signs to look out for

Don’t Misunderstand: Interpreting Grief Behaviors

By Erica Jenkins

Most employees can function at work when grieving, but there will likely be behavior changes supervisors and co-workers may notice. Paying attention to these behaviors and understanding that they are related to the grief experience is the first step to being supportive during the grief process.

For supervisors responsible for employee performance, monitoring employee behavior during grief is especially important, as it allows the supervisor a way to be accommodating but also provides an empathetic avenue to address performance issues related to grief if the behavior persists.

It must be noted, that in order to correctly evaluate employee behavior, a supervisor must know the employee’s work habits and characteristics prior to the loss.

Dr. Laura Wheat, a clinical assistant professor in UT Knoxville’s College of Education, Health and Human Sciences explained the following common grief behaviors employees may exhibit and the reasons behind them.

1. Extreme, Yet In-Character Behavior

When grieving, we turn to our natural coping mechanisms because they make us feel better. Naturally shy and withdrawn co-workers may isolate themselves more. More outgoing co-workers may spend a lot of time joking around at the water cooler or finding reasons to have a meeting because that interaction is comforting and provides a distraction.

2. Reduced Productivity or Preoccupation

Employees in grief may appear preoccupied or have reduced productivity because they are processing the loss and trying to make sense out of it, especially with a death loss.

3. Arriving Late or Leaving Early

Depending on the type of loss, an employee may arrive late or need to leave early. A loss can create a change in the family routine that may take time for the employee to adjust.

4. Calling in Sick

You may observe a co-worker in grief getting sick and taking more sick days. While some may think the employee is faking illness to get out of work because they’re sad, grief takes a lot of energy and actually lowers the immune system’s ability to fight off infection

This is Part 3 of 4 from our first series of stories about grief and loss. Read parts 1, 2, and 4.

Erica Jenkins HeadshotErica Jenkins  Contact
UT System Administration

Erica joined the UT System Office of Communications and Marketing in 2011 and currently serves as public relations associate, specializing in measurement and analytics and managing communication planning for government relations and advocacy initiatives. When she’s not involved in community and campus organizations, Erica enjoys deep sea fishing with her family and working on music. 

Posts represent the views, expertise and recommendations of their authors and do not necessarily reflect an endorsement by the University of Tennessee. Furthermore, the content of the blog is for informational purposes only. The content of the blog is not, and is not intended to be used as, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.