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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. Because people experience and respond to trauma differently, your job can be that much more challenging. The sudden and permanent absence of a fellow employee who has shared the ups-and-down of work-life is often deeply stressful and destabilizing. Those who worked closely with the person will feel they've lost a member of their an extended family. Even employees who did not know or did not get on well with the employee may feel repercussions: an unrelated personal trauma or guilt over past differences with the person can be exposed and revisited. Your immediate job is to provide ways for these emotions to be recognized and channeled in a comfortable, trusted setting.
Contact COPE, Your Workplace Assistance Provider
First, you or Human Resources should contact COPE to facilitate a debriefing session. When you contact COPE, you will be asked to provide relevant information regarding the death of the employee as well as your personal assessment of the work group's reaction to the situation. Then, a one to two hour debriefing session for employees should be scheduled. Research has shown that intervention with the affected work group reduces the stressful impact of someone's death.
The meeting is typically voluntary with employees encouraged to attend. During the meeting co-workers who wish to speak should be given the opportunity to do so, to volunteer expressions of grief as well as time to share thoughts in remembrance of the person. Plans for gestures of condolence to family members can be completed at this time. Doing so helps to satisfy the need to do something to commemorate the loss. Other employees may prefer and need one-on-one attention due to the severity of their grief. Arrangement for private onsite sessions should be made in advance
Assess Your Needs and Delegate Duties
Assess your own reaction to the news in order to anticipate the need to involve other resources within the organization. Effectively managing what may be an extremely emotional situation for you and your work group may mean delegating duties associated with the death to those who are more detached from the situation. It is important to be realistic?you will not be able to think of everything or meet every need?this is an unusual work situation with few protocols. You will, however, want to thoughtfully consider the following steps:
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:
Necessary Losses, The Loves, Illusions, Dependencies, and Impossible Expectations That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Grow, Viorst, Judith, Fireside, 1998. Section IV, Chapters 16 through 20 are particularly significant in regards to loss and grief.
Death and Dying, Kubler-Ross, Elisabeth, Scribner, 1997.
When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Kushner, Harold, Avon, 1997.
of Retired Persons
Wendt Center for
Loss and Healing
The Hospices of the
www.griefnet.org - An internet community of persons dealing with loss utilizing email support groups.
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