Contributors : empathy.com, monday.com, Shiran Nawi, Avi Eyal
One unfortunate aspect of dealing with a crisis, that we tend not to talk about, is what happens in the workplace if a traumatic loss of a team member or a relative of an employee occurs.
When supporting a grieving employee and/or leading a team affected by loss, it is a time to over extend trust, communicate compassionately and clearly, and bring your team together to support those most affected by the loss – and do so with empathy and compassion.
Such events affect the whole team, and when they occur, being prepared and having a plan in place will make it easier to cope and manage.
Establish key plans and processes to ensure you know what to do ahead of time.
- Immediate reporting to management and HR.
- In small companies typically the CEO should reach out to the family or the bereaved employee to gain more information and see what’s needed. In large organizations HR takes the lead and the CEO provides a supporting note.
- Management should send an appropriately worded email at company level and an external as appropriate (even people who don’t necessarily interact with the bereaved employee daily, but who should be aware of the information). Consider consulting the grieving employee and/or the family in drafting the message in order to be as sensitive and precise as possible.
- Make a decision about who will participate in a funeral and mourning period (for mourning period try visit a few times by different co-workers and HR).
- Assign a ‘buddy’ to the employee, a fellow worker who is a close friend/confidant who will be the company’s contact person with the affected employee.
Steve, a 22 year old reservist, was killed in action on Wednesday evening. Steve and his team were called to rescue civilians under attack in a town in Southern Israel. As the commander of his unit, Steve entered the danger zone first and was tragically killed in the ensuing gun battle. Steve leaves behind his parents, Beth and Andrew Smith, and his brother, David who works in R&D at our Tel Aviv location.Details on Steve’s funeral and mourning (‘Shiva’ – the Jewish custom of visiting the family and offering condolences for 7 days following a funeral) will be sent once we have them.We extend our deepest and most heartfelt condolences, our thoughts and our prayers, to our beloved David and his family in this unimaginably difficult time. May Steve’s memory be a blessing.
Example of a company notice of passing e-mail provided by monday.com
What to send, service providers, format
- Prepare ahead of time what you will send the grieving family or employee and account for sensitivity (e.g. do you send flowers and what type, is the household kosher/halal/vegetarian if sending a meal or a cake box, equipment for the family to use in mourning period).
- Equip the office with aids to support employees in case of an unfortunate announcement or leaving for a funeral (such as tissues, water bottles, Kippahs, etc).
- Get in touch in advance with a few optional service providers that can deliver what you wish on time so you wont need to look for it in times of crisis.
- Prepare a format for a grieving card (e.g., company card, hand write, text).
|Dear Smith family,
There are no words that can describe your immense pain.
We are with you in your grief, and to hug and strengthen you.
May you never know sorrow again.
With love and appreciation,
Example of a card sent to a house of mourning.
- Prepare ahead a support policy for affected employees (flexibility, grief leave policy, mental support, etc.) and communication methods.
- If you need to rearrange workflow tasks following the loss, update everyone on the team as soon as possible. Try to be as straightforward as possible when you communicate the new plan of action and, most importantly, express your gratitude to your team for being flexible during this period.
Support from managers and coworkers
Simply being present is much more important than being perfect— because there is no such thing as a “perfect” response. If you’re fumbling for words, these phrases send the right message:
- “I am so sorry for your loss. The team and I are here for you. We will support you in any way we can. Please let me know what I can do to help you through this difficult time.”
- “How can I help?”
- “I am here to help in any way I can.”
- “I don’t know what you’re going to be going through, but we’re here for you.”
- “At times like this, we all need help. We are here to help.”
If you’re a manager, make sure that all of your employees feel, seen and heard, and that you are aware of their individual needs and situations, as well as some level of their coping mechanisms. They will show up very differently from each other, and will need very different levels and types of support.
Anything you can do to ease workload and expectations will give the employee space to heal and contribute to a culture of care and resilience. Make sure that the employees are aware of any support channels.
Be sensitive and supportive of memorial initiatives that the team may have – in the workplace or with the bereaved family.
Returning to work
Be flexible on the return to work. Each person deals with loss differently.
Just because your employee returns to work does not mean they are ready to be fully present on the job. Some employees return to work when they are not ready and often they don’t know this. As a manager or coworker you might find yourself in awkward moments of not knowing what to say to be supportive, what to do to assess the situation, or how to make decisions that balance their needs with the needs of your larger team.
Some signs to look out for that may mean that your employee needs additional support: they are not achieving their responsibilities or making errors they never made before; their teammates are grumbling and becoming resentful; they are frequently calling in sick or disappearing during the day. The best thing you can do is be approachable and encourage conversations:
- Ask them if they want to talk. The conversation might be about their loved one or the grieving process, or you can talk to them about what would help them the most in the office. Schedule time for regular check-ins or one-on-one meetings to engage in a conversation.
- Come prepared with suggestions for what you can realistically do for them: work fewer hours, have less responsibility for decisions, or work from home for a while, offer more time off.
- Sometimes, everything you can do as a manager is not enough support for someone deep in grief. If you do not see your employee making much emotional progress and they are not functioning well, refer them to a more professional support.
Long term support
Loss is not a one-time event. It is an ongoing process that takes time and considerable mental and emotional effort. On the one hand, the affected employee and the involved team need to get back to a functional routine, on the other hand, at the same time, there is a strong desire and need to remember, to deal with the pain, to feel it. The memory and the pain continue to be present all the time and especially on special occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries, holidays etc. This is especially difficult when the loss is an unexpected traumatic event. Consider helping the affected person by arranging annual remembrance events or notes, and at the very least make a calendar entry to approach and console them.
In moments of crisis, belonging and togetherness are significant in creating an effect of hope and coping. Be sensitive and empathetic to the ongoing difficulty and provide the required space and support, on an ongoing basis and over time.
In closing, there is no right way to handle the very sensitive issue of grief. Having a plan in place ahead of time, can at least ease the challenge and help deal with it at the point in happens and over time thereafter.