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.