How to deal with a death in the workplace and support grieving employees.

We spend a lot of our time at work so it’s only natural to strike up a bond with our colleagues. Because of this, a colleague’s death can be difficult to deal with for those who worked closely with the deceased, especially if the death was unexpected. Even if the colleague’s death was the result of an illness it can still lead to shock and depression.

As an employer, it can be difficult to know how to manage these situations. You’ll want to offer support to grieving employees while minimising the impact it may have on the business at the same time.


There is no right or wrong way to deal with the death of someone we know

Everyone reacts differently to death – how we grieve is as individual as who we are. With that in mind, here are some suggestions for you to help employees cope with the death of a colleague:

Inform staff, quickly – For those employees who were especially close or worked closely with the deceased person a personal call or a conversation in-person will go a long way. Otherwise, an email is a good way to let everyone know about the situation at the same time. A communication plan is also important so you can be open and transparent with employees and stop any gossip. Be sure to check with the deceased’s family that any details you share are appropriate.

Utilise your Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) – If your company has an EAP, remind your employees it’s there and how they can access it to help them deal with the death of their colleague. Often the EAP can place someone on-site, even if just for the first few days. Employees who are struggling or need to talk to someone have that opportunity with a professional counsellor. Your managers can also use it to get guidance on how best to support their grieving staff.

Encourage your employees to share – Providing access to therapists allows staff the opportunity to speak to a professional and for them to process their feelings. Encourage them to also speak to one another. Some people may not want to talk to a stranger about their feelings; but would prefer to speak to someone who knew the person they’re grieving for.

But also respect their privacy – Individuals may find the situation difficult to talk about. Don’t push them to talk or intrude, let them have their privacy. When they are ready, grieving employees may share more.

Be empathetic – Some people will process grief and move on, others will struggle with their feelings of grief for a longer time. Especially if they worked closely with the deceased. Checking in regularly with those who seem to be struggling in the longer term and offering them ongoing support will help them.

Acknowledge shared grief – If yours is a small company, have a meeting with the entire team and bring everyone together. Some employees may not feel comfortable attending. Make it optional for staff to attend but mandatory for senior leadership to be there. Employees need to know that everyone, especially those at the top, are feeling this loss. For those of your employees who worked closely with the deceased, a one-to-one meeting with them will give them an opportunity to share thoughts and feelings they may not want to voice in a larger group.

Time and space – If possible, give your employees the option of working from home. Some people need time alone to process their feelings. If they can’t come into work let them know they can take all the time they need. Grant time off for those who wish to attend the funeral service. Likewise, be understanding of those who do not want to attend.


In a nutshell

It will take time for employees to recover. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, taking steps to ensure their well-being in a difficult time can go a long way in their recovery.

Your bereaved colleagues will appreciate their employers’ intent to support them. Give them the resources to get help. And space to call on your support as and when they need it, without being too forceful. Grief is an individual process that affects people in different ways over different time periods. Keep this in mind as you support your employees.

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