Having an employee pass away suddenly can come as a huge shock to an organization. Many of us spend more time with our co-workers than with our own families. How an employer deals with this sensitive issue will be heavily scrutinized. So how can an employer best help their staff handle the loss of their co-worker? Below are a few tips we’ve compiled that can help your team cope in a difficult time.
Notifying employees in person
Giving news of the death of a co-worker can be one of the toughest jobs a supervisor ever has to do. Depending on the size of the company, ideally employees should be notified in person, particularly those who work closely with the deceased. This should be done promptly and should respect the memory of the employee. Address work concerns at a later time or privately with those who will be required to perform any urgent tasks.
Allow for employees to grieve
It is reasonable to expect that many, if not all, employees who worked with the deceased will be unable to complete their work the day of the announcement. This reaction should be anticipated and arrangements should be made to allow those who need time off to receive it.
Ensure employees are able to attend the funeral/memorial service
It is important that those who desire to attend funeral/memorial services held in honor of the deceased be allowed to do so. This may require that a whole department close down for a period of time, typically no longer than a morning or afternoon. The department leader should arrange for office coverage if this is the case.
Communicate how to access the Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
The supervisor should be sure to mention the EAP (if one is available) to employees in the days following their co-worker’s death. Be sensitive to the fact that many co-workers may have known the deceased on a personal level, and their grief may affect their behavior and performance. If an EAP is not available, an industrial psychologist may be able to provide grief counselling should it be required.
Allow employees to honour their co-worker
Recognize that different people deal with grief in different ways, regardless of how close they were to the employee. Allow employees to memorialize the deceased in whatever way they feel appropriate. This could be by setting up a memorial on the employee’s desk, raising money for the employee’s favorite charity or by simply organizing a lunch at the employee’s favorite restaurant.
Be sensitive about how you collect the deceased employee’s personal belongings
In most situations, the employee will have personal belongings at work. It may be difficult for co-workers to see these items removed. Make arrangements for a member of the employee’s family to collect those items after a respectable amount of time has passed.
Don’t rush to fill the vacancy
Lastly, replacing the deceased too quickly may make co-workers feel that the company did not value the contributions the deceased made. Consider having someone fill in on a temporary basis or leave the employee’s workspace vacant for a few weeks.