Certainly not an uplifting topic, but something that does happen on occasion is the death of a coworker. Whether this coworker was diagnosed with an illness months prior, or the death is sudden, the loss of a coworker is one of those things that can impact everyone. It is in these times where managers and staff will reach out to Human Resources to ask, “What can we do, or what should we do for our team?” The answer to these questions may vary depending on situations, but the subsequent paragraphs will provide some guidance.
What I usually tell these managers is that as the leader of your team, it is important for you to assist employees with the grievance process. Not everyone is the same, some employees may stay in the anger and denial phase while some have moved to acceptance. The key is to not expect everyone to be “business as usual”, and let employees have their time to move through their grieving. It is never easy, and requires patience, sensitivity, and sympathy.
Before you can be a sounding board for your employee, recovery will start with you … it’s okay to check-in with yourself. Sometimes talking to someone about your grief outside of work is helpful. Most companies offer some sort of Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that can be a wonderful resource at such a time. If that is uncomfortable, sometimes speaking to a friend or loved one about the loss can be beneficial. The main idea is to release your emotions. To be helpful for your staff, it is important to provide yourself with good self-care.
So now that you are taking care of you, you can be more effective taking care of others. If allowed, perhaps taking advantage of EAP services could be of great help. Most EAP services do provide on-site grief counseling. Most importantly, it is important to be prepared for a gamut of emotions. Some may become very emotional, and some may not react at all. Provide your team with the time to sit and talk. Sometimes sharing and remembering is good medicine for grief. This also opens a support network of employees bonding together, sharing in their grief.
Paying respects to the memory of the coworker, and/or to the co-worker’s family is also valuable. I’ll never forget when one of our coworkers passed away while jogging on a trail after work. The outpouring of employee support to the family; attending the funeral, providing meals, etc., was incredible. Months after this person’s death, the family sent a letter to us acknowledging the important part we played in their healing. Other ideas to consider could be a moment of silence, planting a tree, or writing stories. Finding what works best for you and your team is completely up to you.
Keeping things business as usual can become a delicate balance, but at the end of the day, there is work to be done. It is difficult to keep people motivated to continue with their work, and perhaps at the same time, perform some of the work of the departed employee. This is certainly not easy, and not the only challenge remaining. It will be equally as challenging to replace the deceased employee, and also to determine what to do with the deceased employee’s things. For us, in the previous situation I mentioned earlier, each week that went by it seemed more and more eerie to remove items from his office. I feel we waited too long, and his office became something of a shrine. When the day came to finally move someone new into his office, many months later, it felt as if his death was just yesterday. My advice is waiting a respectful period of time, but not too long.
Eventually, things will get back to normal. It just takes time to get there. The path to getting there may be short, or it may be long … but now you have some guidance on how you will get yourself and your team there.
- Richard Finger has worked in Human Resources for over 20 years and has worked with small, private organizations, global corporations, and most currently, a healthcare organization. Richard has worked abroad a number of years in England as well as The Netherlands, where he acquired a great appreciation for cultural awareness. He currently holds three Human Resource Certifications (SHRM-SCP, SPHR, SPHRi), and is also teaching the SHRM-CP/SHRM-SCP preparation course at Howard County Community College. Richard earned his Bachelor Degree in Psychology at University of Central Florida, and Master Degree in Human Resources Management & Labor Relations at New York Institute of Technology. Richard has been writing for Baltimore Outloud for a number of years, contributing articles about his Human Resources experiences, as well as moonlighting as the author of Finger's Food restaurant reviews. Richard has enjoyed writing for the paper, and looks forward to many more opportunities to do so.