COVID-19 Grief: Mourning Our Past Lives

by Jessica Olbricht SPHR, SHRM-SCP Consultant, Human Resource Services

Bulletin,  HR Expertise and Support,  Leadership

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a material impact on our lives in many ways. Some have lost loved ones to COVID-19, some have lost jobs, some have had an ongoing struggle to balance work and remote school. Even though people may not have had a significant loss during the pandemic, everyone is experiencing a change in our world as we knew it. We are all experiencing grief. Grief doesn’t only mean losing someone; it can be the loss of something or a significant change in one’s life. One of the first steps in moving through our grief is recognizing that we are grieving. We may be grieving over the loss of someone important to us, our limited social connections, or our ability to experience in-person dining. Additionally, individuals will move through grief in different ways. Some of the ways it can be expressed are anger, frustration, sadness, and acceptance, and it may depend upon the day which emotion is being expressed.

George Bonanno, Ph.D., a psychologist who heads the Loss, Trauma, and Emotion Lab at Teachers College, Columbia University, provides some perspective on grief. Though grief is complicated, it helps to recognize that it’s natural and useful. Grief is really about turning inward and recalibrating and thinking: ‘This is not the way the world is anymore, and I need to adapt,’” he says. “It’s okay to feel grief over what we’re losing. When we do that, it allows us to let grief do its job so that we can move on.”

These comments from Bonanno reinforce the importance of recognizing we are experiencing grief as a result of the pandemic. As employers, pausing to acknowledge this is occurring with our employees (and ourselves), we will be better equipped to move forward in a most effective way for our business.

What can we do to support our employees through their pandemic grief?

  • Acknowledge that we all may be experience Pandemic Grief. Openly talk about this, recognizing it is a real concept we are all likely experiencing and that you want to support your employees as we all work through it in our individualized way.
  • Journaling can be an effective way for individuals to cope with grief. Consider providing individual journals to each employee as you acknowledge the grief process for your company.
  • Ask employees how they are doing. Engage in conversation that is non-work related when appropriate. Find out what they need to feel supported in their work.
  • Share CDC resources regarding Coping with Grief. 
  • Tap into your EAP. Utilize grief, trauma counseling offered through your EAP or other resources.
  • Consider offering COVID-19 grief paid time off for the next 12-months to allow employees to take time to grieve in their own way.

“Grief is not anything we’ve ever tackled well in the workplace. Businesses don’t usually recognize it, but it actually has a huge financial impact,” says David Kessler of He co-authored two books with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and wrote Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief. “Employee productivity is so impacted by loss, and loss is everywhere right now.” This is a crucial opportunity for senior leadership to be a trailblazer in making a change in allowing organizations to tackle grief in the workplace. Share Kessler’s quote with your senior leadership team. Work together to support each other and your employees as you work through COVID-19 grief. Please call Employers Council with questions; we are here to help.

About the author
Jessica Olbricht SPHR, SHRM-SCP Consultant, Human Resource Services

Jessica is a Human Resources Consultant at Employers Council, Inc. in the Human Resources Services Department. Jessica holds a bachelor’s in Business Administration, emphasis in Human Resources from the University of Nebraska. In her 20+ Human Resources career, she has provided Human Resources leadership, providing strategy and administration in compensation & benefits, talent acquisition, performance management, cultural development leading to top workplace recognition. She consults with members of Employers Council on various topics spanning the many facets of Human Resources of today and the future.