What to Do When an Employee Dies

What to Do When an Employee Dies

18th August 2016

The death of an employee is a tragic event for any business and can be very unsettling for the organisation as a whole.  Whether the death is from natural causes, a sudden accident or suicide, the loss will affect the person’s colleagues, managers and the wider organisation.  In order to avoid major disruption, any organisation should be prepared for situations such as this and for the aftermath.   If the death is directly linked to the workplace, then it will have been reported.  Any crisis event in the workplace can lead to feelings of helplessness, powerlessness and entrapment for the company’s other employees and the workplace could be difficult to manage for a while until things settle down a little.  

Immediately after the incident people are likely to want to know what happened, some in more detail than others so it’s important to get things right when it comes to balancing the information available.  At such a time, getting accurate information may be challenging and difficult but the more information you can provide for the deceased’s colleagues, the more helpful it will be for them as they come to terms with the loss.  It may be that you need to release information in dribs and drabs as it becomes available to you – it can be particularly unhelpful to say very little and you can give out further information to people as it becomes available to you.  

How and when to announce the loss will depend on the situation and on your workforce and workplace.  Some business owners may feel that gathering the workforce together for a town hall style announcement would be appropriate, while others may want to use intranet posts of personal emails from a senior person in the business in order to spread the sad news.  It’s best to let the workforce know as soon as is possible in order to avoid speculation and to identify any employees who may need support in coming to terms with the loss.

IN times of loss, people will usually come together in order to support each other as much as possible.  People vary in what would be best for them after a loss, so it’s important not to impose your own views on what you think people want or need and what you intend to provide.  The organisation is likely to suffer some disruption as employees may lose focus and managers may struggle to manage the workforce, especially if they are feeling the loss on a personal basis themselves.  It may be a good idea to consider on-site counselling or look for external support like an employee assistance programme.  

Some employees may wish to place tributes or flowers on the person’s desk (or workstation) or you may wish to arrange a simple gathering at the person’s desk to provide a focus for people affected by the news.  You may wish to organise a book of remembrance for colleagues to sign.  You may find that the deceased’s family members want to visit the place of work and, if this is the case, it’s a good idea to issue an open invitation to employees to meet the family.  If employees wish to attend the funeral, they should be enabled to do so, if possible as this will provide comfort to both them and the family.