How to Express Sympathy in the Workplace


At some time, you will inevitably be tasked with helping an employee deal with the loss of a loved one. It is not easy, but it is important. When an employee loses someone he/she cares about, it is essential for the management or the human resources department to find the appropriate ways to convey condolences.

Depending on your work culture, this response will be varied. For instance, smaller companies may express their sympathy in a more intimate way, whereas larger companies may express sympathy in a more formal way. The ultimate goal is to let the employee know, as a company, you are thinking of him/her during this difficult time.

What to Say and How to Say It

First, you should express sympathy through a handwritten note. You may write an actual note, or you may buy a sympathy card. Many businesses have co-workers sign one sympathy card to pass on to the bereaved employee. Remind employees they do not need to write anything profound. A simple message such as “I’m sorry for your loss” is appropriate to write in a sympathy card.

What to Send

Your company should send the bereaved employee something in honor of their loved one. For instance, many companies will send a floral arrangement to the funeral home. This is something you can even do internationally. For example, a simple search for a Madrid florist will lead you to a business that can design and deliver the arrangement to the proper location in Madrid.

If there will not be a funeral or memorial service where this type of floral arrangement would be appropriate, you may choose to send a plant to your employee. Plants are long-lasting and serve as gentle reminders of their loved one. Another option is to send a gift basket. Many companies design sympathy gift baskets that include snacks and care items to help the individual cope during this trying time.

What to Give

Your company may decide to give a memorial gift rather than sending a floral gift. This is another proper way to honor your employee’s loss. If you choose to give a donation in honor of the deceased, find out which charities the deceased individual supported. In many cases, the obituary will list where donations should be sent. If the obituary suggests donations “in lieu of flowers,” it is appropriate for the company to give this type of memorial gift.

Other Considerations

Carefully consider the religion of the deceased when you are writing sympathy notes and when you are sending gifts. Different religions have unique funeral customs. For example, some religions do not find flowers appropriate. Take time to review funeral flower etiquette before you place your order.

Unless the funeral is private, it is a kind gesture to attend. While you should not expect to speak with the family for a lengthy amount of time, you should plan to express your sympathy with just a few words. If you know the deceased, try to share an uplifting memory with the family. Your presence and your gentle words will be much appreciated.

There may also come a time when an employee of your company passes away. For this sad occasion, you must be sure to offer comfort to your staff, as well as express heartfelt condolences to the family of the deceased. Try to handle the loss with sensitivity and give your staff time to grieve the loss of their friend and co-worker. Your human resources department will also be tasked with making sure the designated family members receives final paychecks and personal effects.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to expressing sympathy, the most important thing you can do is acknowledge the loss. Sometimes people hesitate to say anything to the bereaved because they feel like they do not know what to say. A simple “I’m sorry” goes a long way. The basic thought is that it is much better to say something than to stay silent. These kinds of acknowledgments are necessary for fostering healthy workplace culture.

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