Managing the Workplace After the Death of an Employee

As a manager, one of the most difficult situations you may face in your career is managing the aftermath of the death of an employee and the multiple repercussions that may affect your work group or department. Because a critical incident of this nature may be traumatic for co-workers of the employee, it is recommended that you, or your Human Resources support person contact your Employee Assistance Program to assist you. It is helpful to schedule a debriefing session after news of the employee’s death has been received. Your EAP specialist will be available to facilitate the session once it can be arranged. Research has shown that early intervention with the affected work group, within 24 to 72 hours after the word of a death arrives, reduces the stressful impact of the news. Co-workers have the opportunity to volunteer expressions of grief and time to share thoughts in remembrance of the person. Plans for gestures of condolence to family members can be completed and satisfy the general need to do something to commemorate the loss. Effectively managing what may be an extremely emotional situation for you and your work group may mean delegating certain duties associated with the death to those who are more detached from the situation.

Because an incident of this nature can result in a traumatic stress response, it is recommended that you or Human Resources contact the EAP to facilitate a debriefing session for all affected employees within 24 to 48 hours after learning of the death. Research has found that early intervention with a work group reduces the possibility of delayed stress responses and enables the work group to return to their normal level of productivity sooner. Another benefit of the debriefing is that the organization and its management staff are viewed by employees as responsive and caring people.

Since each member of the work group may grieve the loss of their co-worker in individual ways, it makes sense to recognize that need. Provide ways for these emotions to be channeled and recognized. There is a wide range of normal and appropriate reactions to grief and loss.

When you contact the EAP, you will be asked to provide whatever relevant information is available regarding the death of the employee and your assessment of the work group’s reaction to the situation. A one to two hour debriefing session or meeting for employees should be scheduled as soon as possible. This meeting should be voluntary; interested employees are encouraged to attend. Individuals may choose to speak or not speak. There may be individual employees, identified by you or by the EAP counselors, who may need one-on-one attention, due to the severity of their grief reaction.

Listed below are subject areas to be considered when trying to effectively manage this kind of workplace situation. You will not be able to think of everything or meet every need – this is an unusual work situation where there are few protocols. You will, however, want to thoughtfully consider the following steps:

First Things First

Get all of the assistance you feel you will need to effectively manage the situation. Assess your own reaction to the news in order to anticipate the need to involve other resources within the organization.

Staff Notification

There is no way to anticipate how you will learn of the death of one of your employees. You may be the first to know from the family, but often the news will travel a more circuitous route and another employee may alert you. No matter how you learn of the incident, react quickly by notifying immediate staff and close work friends directly, and the rest of the company through written communications, such as an email or memorandum. Remember to contact staff who are away or on leave. Share whatever information you have and explain that more details will be forthcoming.

Attending the Funeral or Memorial Service

Arrange time for your staff to attend the funeral or memorial service if they would like to do so. You may need to hire a temporary worker to answer phones for a few hours so that everyone can attend. Attending the memorial service is an important part of the grieving process.

Remembering the Deceased Employee

The relationship the employee had with co-workers will often determine how the workplace decides to remember the deceased. Examples of work group responses include: creating a memorial bulletin board with photos and other meaningful images, holding a workplace event such as a luncheon or reception to honor the deceased employee. Invite family members and close friends outside of work to share their memories with the group. You might also: create a memory book filled with stories and sentiments from co-workers to give to the family, have a fundraiser to give a financial donation to a chosen charity organization, or write an article about the employee for the in-house newsletter.

Other Workplace Issues

Some of the more concrete issues which you, as the manager, will need to address are:

Desk and personal belongings.

Family members or a close work friend may want to handle the task of boxing up the in dividual’s personal belongings.

Changing the voice mail message, retrieving messages (voice mail and email), handling inquires intended for the deceased employee.

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