What to do when a co-worker dies
As the workforce grows older, it will become sadly commonplace for employees to lose their co-workers to age-related ailments. The death of a co-worker can halt work as whole departments attend the funeral and recover from their loss. Yet only about 5% of organizations allow employees to take leave after the death of a friend or co-worker.
It would be futile for managers to expect the colleagues of a deceased employee to go about business as usual. Here’s how HR should respond:
- Inform employees about the death as quickly as possible. Get to those who worked most closely with the deceased first—and privately—before making a general announcement.
- Allow employees to talk with each other about the death or to go home if they want to.
- Encourage employees to attend the funeral or memorial service—even if you have to hire temps to fill in while they’re out.
- Notify your employee assistance program about the death and remind employees that EAP counselors are trained and ready to talk them through the stress and grief they might experience. Counseling within three days after a death is most effective in helping people who are grieving.
- Engage the employee’s closest colleagues in planning a memorial function to honor their friend. Allow them to coordinate other commemorations, like a photo board, an article in the employee newsletter or a charity fundraiser in memory of the departed.
- Form a support group for co-workers to attend as they recover from the loss.