Human Resources

Ways to Help Your Staff Deal with a Co-Worker’s Death

It’s difficult to lose someone close to you. Whether it be a friend or family member, their passing takes a toll. But what about the people with which we spend the vast majority of our time?

Our colleagues and co-workers become a large part of our lives simply through the fact that we spend such a large portion of our lives surrounded by them.

It’s estimated that most of us will spend around one-third of our lives at work. The people we share this time begin as colleagues, but often become close friends.

Losing a co-worker is not dissimilar to losing a family member—there is a void left in the office and these feelings can be shared amongst the staff. But there are ways employers can help staff through this difficult time.

Be open and honest

Like many topics in the workplace, the more transparent you can be the better the outcome.

People close to the deceased may know the exact details around their passing, but those further from the situation may hear information second or third hand.

Being open and honest can help stamp out the confusion and avoid any complications or miscommunications that can occur because of office chatter. Openly acknowledging the loss will let co-workers know that this is a safe space to grieve.

Set up a meeting or informal discussion

Much like being open and honest, establishing a meeting to acknowledge and communicate that someone has passed will go a long way to ensuring their colleagues understand the situation.

Nothing could be more hurtful to staff close to the deceased than hearing the information days after the event and from an unfamiliar source.

A meeting or informal discussion also creates a forum for questions, especially around funeral services and what the next steps are from a business perspective.

Encourage the use of HR, employee services and staff support networks

Most businesses large and small have some sort of framework in place to support staff. Whether this support is for personal reasons or work-related instances, they are a great facility for your staff during emotional times.

Reminding people that these services are available and how they can access them should be a top priority. Grief in the workplace can be a very difficult thing for people to process and can greatly affect staff morale and productivity.

Where possible, have a mental health professional available to come in and talk to staff directly. Both one-on-one sessions or group therapy could be helpful.

Communicate the funeral details and attend, if possible

When you lose a family member or friend, it’s often assumed you will attend the funeral service. But this can be a bit of a grey area when it comes to your work colleagues.

Some staff may feel like they are intruding on a private moment reserved for the person’s family or close friends. Communicating the family’s wishes can go a long way to easing any uncertainty around the funeral.

Many services are a celebration of life more than a commiseration of death, and families will generally appreciate a large show of support.

However, in some instances, families may want to keep these moments private. Remember, it’s up to the family, and their wishes should be honored. It’s imperative this is communicated to staff that may wish to attend.

Reach out to the family

Co-workers can often feel like family, and it may be comforting for the deceased’s actual family to know how much you care. Offering your condolences as an individual or a group can mean a tremendous amount to the deceased’s family.

This often includes gestures like taking up a collection from your staff to go towards flowers or to help the family financially (particularly if the deceased did not have life or funeral insurance to help cover the cost of a funeral).

While flowers are a go-to choice, there are lots of other options to express your sympathies. Fruit and food baskets can help alleviate the burden of needing to go grocery shopping, cook meals or provide food for visitors.

Photos from work events, around the office and related professional accomplishments may give the family a look into a side of the person’s life that they didn’t get to share as closely.

Lastly, donations to charitable causes can make a thoughtful and meaningful contribution.

We all face situations where someone close to us passes on. Whether in our personal lives or in the workplace, the way we deal with the circumstance shouldn’t change.

Support yourself and those around you, make time to grieve and communicate your feelings. Death is the most difficult part of life, but addressing a staff member’s passing with humility and respect will help ease the strain.