How do I help my employees handle the loss of their co-worker ?

The death of a coworker can be an extremely traumatic experience for employees. Working together in an office, sharing the varied experiences of life with one another, updating each other of the latest bit of gossip and the other mundane things that are part of office life creates bonds that are not always obvious when everything is normal. When an unexpected tragedy such as death strikes someone the employees are close to, the employees, together with their superiors, go through a roller coaster of emotions ranging from numbness and guilt to overpowering grief and despondency.

The death of an employee can, apart from causing the pain of separation and bereavement, can also conjure within us the primeval fear of mortality and the unacceptable reminder of the fragility and uncertainty of life.

While the emotions mentioned above are some of those that can accompany the demise of a coworker, the severity and range of the emotions will depend on factors such as the time spent together, the suddenness of death and the level of proximity in the relationship.

As a manager, you have the responsibility of ensuring that the routine jobs are not delayed, in addition to, grieving for your colleague and helping your subordinates through the difficult period.

The staff needs to get over this traumatic period. There are many steps you can do that can alleviate, if not, totally heal the pain and shock. Some of them are:

Be more accommodating and accepting: The death of a coworker can cause stress due to grief as well as due to the disruption in schedules and job planning. Employees may not be their usual selves and this may show in the quality of the work and their response to typical stressful situations in office life.

Encourage your employees to take care of themselves: Encourage your employees to take care of themselves. Relax deadlines and targets a little, wherever possible. Encourage the employees to talk to one another. Prepare a memorial register where the employees can write about their memories with their lost colleague.

Funerals and Memorial Service: Funerals and memorial services can be a vital component of the healing process. A forum to make a public acknowledgement of the loss and hailing the contributions the employee has made. Special arrangements can be made to facilitate employees to attend these functions. In cases where attending these functions is not viable, alternate arrangements can be made where colleagues can say “good-bye”.

Find a way to honor the memory of the deceased: Collecting money to contribute to a charity in the name of the deceased colleague, organizing a blood donation camp, creating a scholarship for local students are all innovative and effective ways of honoring the deceased as well as healing the grief of friends and coworkers.

Reaching out and helping the family of the deceased: Reaching out to the family members of the deceased has a consoling effect for both the family and the coworkers. The family and loved ones of the employees will be in a state of shock and grief that is far greater in magnitude to that undergone by the employees. If the deceased employee is the sole breadwinner, the tragedy of his death is accompanied by financial distress. A constructive expression of grief can be found in helping his/family by helping another family member get a job, sponsoring their children’s studies collectively with help from other close friends and colleagues.