As an Employee Assistance Program, we frequently receive calls from employees who don’t know what to say or do when a co-worker’s loved one has died. We are more than happy to coach each caller through the situation and help them to think through what they would like to say. Since it often affects a whole work group, managers can also be helpful in this task.
Here are some guiding principles:
– Sometimes the workplace represents a type of family to people so the loss can feel bigger than one might imagine.
– For some people, the death of a co-worker’s spouse or family member may trigger otherwise dormant feelings of sadness from previous losses that someone sustained.
– Most people are uncomfortable knowing the “right” thing to say to someone who has experienced a loss. The best advice we can provide is to know that there aren’t any right or wrong words, and that simply saying “I’m so sorry for your loss” is safe and will be appreciated.
– Let people know about the arrangements in case they want to attend visiting hours or a service. Be flexible if those events conflict with work time.
– Communicate several times with information about the situation. Provide people with the employee’s home address in case they want to send a card. Inform people of specific charities that have been designated to receive memorial gifts.
– Ask the employee if there are any concerns before he/she returns to work. Share those in a discreet way. For example, some people who have suffered a loss are worried that they won’t be productive when they first return to work. Others prefer to jump right in without having to talk much about their loss.
Work, for most people, can provide the necessary normalcy to get back to every day life. Help your employees to welcome back their colleague and re-join their important work family.