5 Things Employers Can do to Manage Grief in the Workplace

My daughter recently called to let me know that a co-worker of hers – a young husband and father of two small children was the victim of a violent murder.  My daughter was very upset and overwhelmed with concern for her friend.

Her emotions were those of grief, anger, empathy and care for the young family he left behind. She has a very verbal personality so she was able to talk through this broad range of emotions that she was dealing with while figuring out how to manage the workplace grief.

This incident reminded me of the handful of times throughout my career that I had to personally deal with the sudden death of a co-worker and friend and the importance of the workplace providing some support for employees as they work through processing the incident and managing the various stages of grief.

Situations like this affect the climate and productivity of a place of  work, making it important for employers to be sensitive enough to take proactive steps to support grieving employees.

5 Things Employers Can Do to Deal with Grief in the Workplace

1.  Acknowledge the Incident

Sudden death, whether it is by natural causes or the result of violence, is difficult for everyone and acknowledging the facts of what happened is the first step in dealing with the tragedy.

Employers should be proactive and share as much information as is appropriate to employees.  This does a couple of things; first, it helps to control the rumor mill and second, it demonstrates to the employees that the employer cares enough to share information that concerns them.

For example, providing information about the funeral arrangements and how employees can be involved in offering help and support to the family helps employees with planning.

2. Provide Outside Counseling

Depending on the circumstances surrounding the death, having outside counselors that specialize in grief support come to the place of employment and meet with employees can help employees through the grieving process.

The advantage of bringing in a professional from outside the organization is that they offer objectivity and care for employees in a confidential manner.

3.  Allow for the Grieving Process

It is important for employers to allow employees to work through the five common stages of grief according to PsychCentral  –  denial, anger, bargaining, sadness and acceptance.

Everyone processes things differently and employers that can identify these stages and support employees through them benefit all concerned.

4. Communicate Next Steps

When a co-worker dies, it is important to communicate sensitively what the transition will be.  For example, how the person’s position will be replaced, the process of cleaning out personal items and how the transition will affect the day-to-day operation of the organization.

Thinking through questions employees might have, and answering them before they are asked, makes the employees feel valued.

5. Be Sensitive to the Family

I have a sister-in-law who lost her husband suddenly when he was only 39 years old and as the widow of an employee, she shared the not-always-friendly experience of dealing with her husband’s employer to access death benefits and other logistical issues that needed to be addressed after he died.

It is important to treat the family as tenderly as you would other employees.  Their loss is great and compassion goes a long way in demonstrating care through a similar situation.

Life is unpredictable and employers are often unprepared for the unexpected sudden death of an employee.  Taking the time to slow the “work-as-usual” and help employees cope with a loss can help the organization go through the natural stages of grieving and return to a state of productivity.

photo by:  siobh.ie

This article was originally posted February, 2012, updated June, 2014.