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  • Writer's pictureSusan & Renée

When an Employee Dies

Updated: Sep 6, 2023

Hopefully you’ll never have cause to read this blog. The death of an employee is not pleasant to think about or plan for, but it happens.

Such a loss can really rattle the workplace, both with the daily flow of operations and with how it impacts individuals mentally and emotionally. After all, our co-workers often become our second family. Photo by Marek Studzinski

As a leader, your actions in the wake of such a tragedy are of critical importance. Your staff will be watching how you respond to the loss and will look to you for comfort and stability. When handled well, it provides the opportunity to express care and appreciation for your employees, signal your values, and influence the culture of your organization.

Showing leadership in light of a staff member’s death, lets employees know you value them as people, not just workers. Such kindness promotes trust, security, team work, and community - all things that help the workplace be a life-giving place.

A few things to keep in mind:

Acknowledge the loss. Silence from leadership leaves room for negative interpretations. It can communicate that you don’t care, which in turn poisons morale and company culture. A respectfully worded company-wide announcement can be used to express condolences and prevent some employees from finding out in surprising or unpleasant ways.

In addition, you can personally reach out to staff members who worked closely with the deceased. Not only does this communicate your care for them, it allows you to recognize the difficulties they may face moving forward without their colleague.

Support flexibility. Remember that there are vast differences in the way individuals grieve. Common responses include fatigue, trouble concentrating, and physical aches and pains. As much as possible, accommodate what employees need as they adjust to the loss, but don’t decide for them. Some will find comfort in staying with the daily routine. Those who need modifications will appreciate your permission to take care of themselves.

Memorialize the deceased. The ways this can be done vary greatly depending on the deceased’s position in the company and the relationships they had with co-workers. It can be as simple as attending the public memorial service, donating in the person’s honor, or planting an honorary tree in the company courtyard.

If a company wide gesture is appropriate, get input from employees about what kind of action would most resonate with them. Whatever action is taken, use it as an opportunity to acknowledge how the deceased contributed to the company, both in their capacity as a worker and a human.

Provide resources. This may include information about how to manage grief in healthy ways, bringing in qualified professionals to talk to staff, or providing referrals to employees who need additional support.

It is also important to consider the demands of the work that are impacted by the loss. Providing resources for this may include temporarily shifting work responsibilities among staff or hiring temporary assistance.

Take care of yourself. It can be difficult to support others when you are also hurting. If you were close to the deceased, allow yourself time and space for your own reactions and be proactive about getting support for yourself.

Even if you have a solid HR department to guide the organization through navigating the death of an employee, don’t underestimate the power of your leadership to provide support to your staff and shape company culture during such a tender time.

With expertise in both grief and loss and organizational culture, G2 Solutions is primed to help. Let us know how we can serve you.

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