Handling a death in the workplace is a sensitive matter and an emotional challenge for everyone, especially amid the uncertainty brought on by COVID-19. While business must go on, it’s important to try and be thoughtful in the process. Care for the mental health of your employees and give the event the recognition it deserves.
Here, we’re providing several actions you can take to help employees grieve, and also keep the necessary gears turning.
Inform People Tactfully
It’s better for your employees to hear about a death in the workplace from a manager or leadership instead of through informal channels. First ensure the family has been informed, then let your employees know in a way that makes the most sense for your company.
If your employee was a member of a smaller team, it might be best to inform each of their teammates personally and then email the rest of the office. Let people know you will follow up with more information as it becomes available, such as details around a funeral or memorial.
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Put Plans in Place
Unfortunately, day-to-day operations must go on even if an employee has passed away. Do your best to communicate with the deceased employee’s team members to determine what must immediately be covered in their absence. Contact regular clients if necessary to inform them of the situation and let them know who will be their point of contact.
Allow Time and Space to Process
Grieving is a process that will look different for every person. While you may be familiar with the stages of grief, it’s important to understand that not everyone’s grieving will align with these stages. David Kessler, the world’s foremost expert on grief, explained it well, saying that the stages reflect “responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss as there is no typical loss.”
According to American Psychologist, severe reactions of grief affect approximately 10-15% of people. People grieve differently, and in a variety of ways, from withdrawal to poor sleeping. Let your employees take time off to process, and give them the space to grieve in a way that fits their needs.
Offer Grief Counseling
Some employees will benefit from grief counseling, whether it’s in the office, on the phone, or through a healthcare plan. Here are some ways you can help:
Continuing work in the face of a colleague’s death isn’t easy, but it’s something that will go more smoothly if you have a process in place to take care of loose ends and offer employees support.
- For people who need to talk, direct them to the Grief Recovery Hotline (800-445-4808) or to recovery groups like GriefShare.org, which has networks for support all over the US and Canada.
- Bring in a grief counselor for the day to talk to employees who want the option.
- Research if your company healthcare covers mental health and counseling. If your employees have access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) like Health Advocate or Sherpaa, employees can talk to professionals who will refer them to the right services.
Send Regards to the Family
It’s important to respect a family’s privacy, but also let them know you care. Send a card or flowers as appropriate, and ask if they would like co-workers to be involved in the funeral or memorial service.
As you handle required paperwork, uncashed paychecks, and other loose ends, there is a chance you will need to keep communication open with the family so they know what’s going on.
Find Ways to Remember the Employee
Do something special to recognize the deceased employee. Consider forming a committee of those who knew the employee well to help decide what is appropriate.
According to Cope Inc, a company that specializes in managing people, some ideas might include:
- A card signed by the team to the family members
- A moment of silence
- Attending the memorial — this can be done virtually via platforms like Zoom
- Pooling together money for a related charity
- A video or slideshow of memories about the deceased
- A plaque or dedication to the deceased somewhere in the office
Sort Out Workplace Logistics
After navigating all of the above, you’ll need to handle required paperwork and outstanding paychecks for deceased employees. We’ve written a guide below to help walk you through it. Do your best to avoid abrupt changes and allow co-workers some time to adjust before re-arranging desk and office space.
Death is a sensitive topic and one that people struggle to confront. Continuing work in the face of a colleague’s death isn’t easy, but it’s something that will go more smoothly if you have a process in place to take care of loose ends and offer employees support. Business won’t go back to normal right away, but it will eventually adjust as people navigate their co-worker’s absence.
This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.