Talking To Your Coworkers About Death or Terminal Illness of a Loved One

This is part 3 of our Dying Matters 2024 week supportive material.

The four sections in this guide are:

1.    Coping with overwhelming emotions at work
2.    Informing your boss or manager about the death or terminal diagnosis of your loved one
3.    Talking with coworkers about death or terminal illness of a loved one (you are here)
4.    Bereavement leave provisions in the UK 

Tips for reading these guides:

-    Take a break if you feel overwhelmed and come back to the guide later.
-    The advice shown here are merely suggestions that you can choose to implement as you see fit. There is no right or wrong way to do things, only what feels right to you. 
-    Remember that you are not alone in your grief and you can ask for support every step of the way. 


Talking about topics like death, dying or terminal illness can be difficult - more so in the workplace. You may not want to make your coworkers feel uncomfortable around you or treat you differently. You may also worry about how colleagues might perceive you or your job performance. It is advisable to inform your coworkers about what you’re going through, especially if it may affect your day-to-day life at the office. 

Here are some practical tips for talking to your coworkers about a death in the family or terminal illness diagnosis of a loved one.



1.    Inform them yourself or ask someone else to 

You can choose to send an email to your coworkers yourself to tell them about your situation. This way you can control the information that is being disseminated to the team as well as be available to receive condolence messages from people. If this feels too difficult, you can ask your manager or another team member to inform them on your behalf. 

2.    Be clear about what you would like

In your email you can let your coworkers know how you would prefer things to be when you return to the office. For example, would you prefer them not to mention your situation at all and carry on as usual? You can also let them know if you’re open to talking about your loss or if you would prefer to keep topics light. You can mention whether you are open to receiving condolence messages or provide details for sending flowers or a charitable donation. 

3.    Remember that everyone experiences grief

It may feel strange talking about such a personal topic with coworkers, but keep in mind that these are universal experiences. Chances are that some of your coworkers have experienced the loss of a loved one or had to care for a terminally ill family member. They will understand what you’re going through and may even offer support.

4.    Keep in mind that everyone reacts differently 

Grief is a very intense emotion and everyone reacts to it in a different way. This may be due to personal or cultural reasons. People may not react to your news the way that you expect or want them too. This may be upsetting or frustrating for you. That’s okay and completely natural. Death and grief can make people uncomfortable or awkward, but clear and honest communication can make things easier for everyone in the office. 

5.    Be honest

If you are caring for a terminally ill family member or returning to work after losing a loved one, you may need more time to complete projects or have to take frequent breaks during the work day. It’s best to communicate regularly and honestly with your team about your time commitments so that everyone is on the same page. 

6.    Don’t feel like a burden 

At times you may feel like you’re not being as productive or a good team player at work, due to taking time away from work or cutting back on hours. Go easy on yourself and remember that things will get easier with time. If you feel like you are a burden on your coworkers or think that they might resent you, have an open chat with them about what you’re going through. 

Sample email to coworkers:

Subject: Life + Work Update Announcement

Dear Team,

I hope this email finds you all well. I am emailing to inform you all about a big life update which will mean that I will be taking some time away from work for a while.

My sister has received a terminal diagnosis and I will be her primary carer from now on. As you can imagine this is a pretty significant change for my family and I. 

I have already discussed working more flexible hours with our manager and we’ve come up with a good balance that will ensure that I can stay on top of my work commitments as well as my new responsibilities as a carer. I would love to discuss this with you all at our next team meeting and answer any questions (work-related) you might have.

I appreciate your support and cooperation during this challenging time. 

[Your Name] 

Ready to read more? Here are all the parts of this guide ;
1.    Coping with overwhelming emotions at work 
2.    Informing your boss or manager about the death or terminal diagnosis of your loved one
3.    Talking with coworkers about death or terminal illness of a loved one
4.    Bereavement leave provisions in the UK