How To Deal With The Death Of A Colleague

Co-workers can be greatly affected by the death of a colleague. If you think about it, we spend around 40 hours a week in the same office as our colleagues. Over time, we get to know them as individuals and even get to know their families. Colleagues almost become like a second family, one that you may sometimes see more of than your own family. So what happens when one of them suddenly passes away? How do you support your employees to help them get through this rough time when you are grieving yourself?

Coronavirus Update
How To Deal With The Death Of A Colleague was first published on 11 April 2013, I updated it on 25 April 2020 to reflect the current Coronavirus pandemic.

While there is no step-by-step procedure, taking the following actions can help employees begin to deal with the death of an employee.

How To Deal With The Death Of A Colleague


Many employees who are grieving often need to “talk it out.” Make sure you are available to employees who need to talk about their feelings. This can also be done in a group format. Make these gatherings available to anyone who wishes to attend. Ensure all details of funeral services are communicated to employees, along with any donation requests or the wishes of the family.

Show your Support

It is important that your employees understand you are aware of their loss and you are there to help them through it. This may mean making exceptions to rules—for example, allowing employees to use bereavement leave during this time, even if it is usually reserved for immediate family only. Another way to show support is to allow anyone who wishes to attend the funeral to do so, even if it is more than the typical number of absences you would allow, with the understanding that this may briefly affect work. Also, you may wish to make a donation to the family or host a collection and match employee donations.

Identify Those Who May Need Extra Help

Inevitably, there will be employees who had a close connection with the deceased employee. Reach out to these individuals and offer additional resources and support, such as additional grief counselling or time off. Consider engaging these employees in an act of remembrance—for example, allow them to lead an activity such as planting a garden or dedicating an office or conference room to the employee’s memory.

Line managers play a crucial role in managing a bereaved employee, such as reorganising work during the absence and updating colleagues. Remember that they are not immune from being personally impacted, especially if they have suffered a loss under similar circumstances themselves.

Moving On

You need to think about who will be taking on the role of the deceased employee. In the period between recruiting a new person to fill the role, other employees may need to share the workload out. This is where it is important to have job descriptions to help you divide up the duties to the appropriate people.

Be sensitive regarding a replacement
Recovering from such a loss will take time, and you should be prepared to move slower than usual when it comes to finding a replacement for the deceased employee. I recommend waiting until business has returned to normal before beginning a new search and then let your workforce know that you are going to start looking for a replacement. The employee moving into this position should be well informed of what has happened, and you should recognise that the new employee may have a rockier start than others.

Check Entitlement To Benefits
Remember to follow up with life insurance policies and death benefits. The family will be very overwhelmed and may forget that you had a life insurance policy. Help them out by giving them all the necessary information.

Notify External Contacts
Also, don’t forget about people outside of your office that may be affected by the death of your employee. If your employee worked with clients or suppliers, it is important that you issue a statement to them to avoid rumours or uncertainty. Those other businesses may need to grieve as well. They also may want to contribute to a donation or a memory fund so make sure to pass along all of the funeral information.

How To Support An Employee Who Loses An Immediate Family Member

Loss is a complex concept, people can grieve from before the loss (anticipatory) to long after (secondary) and it can be caused by many different things – not just losing an immediate family member. Other types of loss can include the death of a friend or colleague, losing a pet, going through a miscarriage or the end of a relationship.

Understand the Law

This includes reasonable time off work to deal with a dependent, not being treated any differently due to a disability (which can in some instances be caused by the bereavement itself), maternity and paternity leave in the event of a stillborn child or the death of a baby after birth or child under the age of 18 and the employer’s duty of care.

A bereavement (or compassion) policy provides clarity to employees and line managers on what is expected of the employee (such as notifying the business) and what the business provides (such as bereavement leave and pay). Think of what other policies this may touch as well (such as absence) and ensure the content is consistent.

Maintain Confidentiality

By law, employees have the right to keep their bereavement private. It is sensible for the line manager to ask the employee what, if anything, they would like their work colleagues to know. In the interim, it’s best to play it safe and say the absence is for personal reasons.

Maintain An Open Mind

Every employee’s bereavement is different and how people respond and the time they need off work depends on an endless list of factors such as their relationship with the person who died and the circumstances of the death. Bereaved employees won’t easily be able to judge how they may feel when back at work, and support will be required after they return, such as on memorable dates such as birthdays.

Keep In Touch

Line managers are usually best placed to have an initial conversation with the affected employee, to offer condolences and support. They can also reassure them about any worries they may have about work and offer any flexibility that may be required. It is good practice to agree how often the manager and employee will communicate after this initial contact.

Top Tip

Most employees will experience loss at some time during their working lives. ACAS research estimates that 10% of employees are likely to be affected by bereavement at any given time, and so supporting a bereaved employee is something that business owners and and line managers need to be prepared for.

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How To Deal With The Death Of A Colleague