Bereavement

by Judy Carole

Common questions

  1. How do I respond if a family member of one of my key staff dies?
  2. How do I deal with the sudden death of a member of staff?
  3. A member of staff is returning to work after bereavement. No-one knows how to behave towards her.

 

1. How do I respond if a family member of one of my key staff dies?

  • It is crucial that you react to the news of the death rather than the amount of work on that member of staff’s desk.
  • State that you are extremely sorry to hear this news.
  • Suggest that he/she contact you when they have had time to digest the news.
  • Immediately acknowledge the death by sending a note or flowers from management and co-workers.
  • A colleague at the funeral can demonstrate support.
  • Ask them to let you know the date and time of the funeral and arrange for flowers to be sent.
  • Notify their deputy or co-worker and arrange a meeting to decide how to cover that person’s workload for an initial two-week period.
  • Have an emergency plan for an additional month. You may not need it, but it’s better to be prepared than scramble to find a solution at the last minute.

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2. How do I deal with the sudden death of a member of staff?

If the death did not occur in the workplace, it is important to inform people as soon as possible.

  • Locate the people closest to him/her – if possible, before they come to work. Do not pass on the news by text.
  • If you can’t reach them, have someone wait in the entrance of the building for their arrival.
  • Give them as much information about the circumstances of the death as possible, to prevent speculation and confusion.
  • Contact the HR department and request a named contact to act as a connection between the family and the workplace (this can also be you).
  • Request that they give you a contact number for a bereavement counsellor in case of need.
  • If you are not acting as a connection between family and workplace, request to be kept up to date on next-of-kin wishes, funeral date and time.
  • Arrange to have extraordinary meeting for all relevant staff at the first reasonable opportunity during that day, to share emotions and see if anyone’s grief is going to impact on the workplace (see grief).
  • Schedule a meeting to decide how to cover that person’s workload for an initial two-week period on a temporary basis, to give you breathing space to decide a longer-term solution.

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3. A member of staff is returning to work after bereavement. No one knows how to behave towards her*.

Saying nothing is not an option. It will only make that person feel more isolated at a time when they need the most support.

  • If possible, arrange a lunch with co-workers before she returns to work.
  • If that is not possible, nominate someone to greet her as she comes in.
  • Put flowers, a note or both on her desk to welcome her back.
  • If possible, arrange for her to lunch with co-workers on her first day.

*I have used the female pronoun deliberately, in spite of the risk of being accused of sex discrimination. This is one of the areas in which men and women differ greatly. Men will not usually agonise over easing the transition of a bereaved male work colleague back into the workplace.

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