Executives and managers are often untrained in dealing with an employee’s grief and trying to find the right mixture of productivity and compassion and the needs of the bereaved with other employees. According to the Wall Street Journal, workplace grief costs US businesses over $75 billion per year in reduced productivity, increased errors and accidents. How well the workplace supports the employee through the grieving process can make all the difference in the world between the company being seen as compassionate and caring while still showing concern for its customers or those to whom it provides services. Employee morale can be greatly impacted, and managers should not underestimate this important event in the lives of their employees.
To Help Employees
Loss is universal and everyone deals with grief differently–at home and in the workplace. When there is acute grief, there is nothing else that matters, and these feeling can most likely spill into the workplace. Knowing the five stages of grief and feelings that are common grief and appear in mourning can be very helpful. It is important for employers to realize grief is the internal feelings we have that no one can see, whereas mourning is our outward expression of that grief.
Here are some tips for supervisors, managers and executives:
- Get in touch with the bereaved employee as soon as you hear of the loss. Place one call to their home, one call to their cell. If you do not get a response immediately, do not bombard them with calls. They will usually call as soon as they can.
- Express your condolences and allow them to be emotional without judgment.
- Ask your employee or employee’s family about funeral arrangements and what information they would like passed along to other employees and what information they would not want passed on.
- Consider what is best for the style of your workplace. Is it individual calls and cards or would it be better to organize a group acknowledgment? Donations to a charity of the person’s choice are usually welcomed. Keep cultural differences in mind. Some cultures love flowers, others do not.
- When the time is appropriate, discuss a work acknowledgment or memorial. For most employers, offsite memorials work better than onsite, especially if it is the death of an employee. It could be a tree planted in their name or an internet site such as Tributes.com which can help tell the story of an employee.
- Don’t forget about your other employees who may be impacted by the loss. They may need a time and place to discuss their feelings.
- Know your bereavement policy as well as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or other resources such as EAP that may be available to the bereaved and other employees. Get help from your HR department.
- Know that the first few days or weeks in returning to work may be particularly difficult. Be patient and understand that the workload may be impacted for a while.
- Last but not least, grief is as unique as our fingerprint. Some employees will cry, some will not. Some will want to talk about it, some will not. How someone behaves in the workplace is never indicative of how much they loved or are grieving for their loved ones.
If a CEO, Top Executive or Board Member Dies
We often think of a staff member’s loved one dying or even those cases where a staff member, themselves, dies. We don’t often think about what happens when the boss dies. The pages of our newspapers and internet sites feature stories daily of CEOs and board members who pass away unexpectedly. These CEOs make the newspaper because of what is now being known as their “golden coffins”. The exorbitant financial package often attracts the media’s attention. This is the tip of the iceberg. We don’t hear about the average head of a small business or vice president or supervisor of the company or organization that suddenly dies. How do we help their employees?
- If it was a CEO with a” golden coffin”, that pays his family for five years of work post death in addition to life insurance benefits. In these economic times, employees can feel conflicted and question the fairness of these arrangements.
- When a boss dies, immediately try to get the information to the employees in a way that is timely and lets them know that they matter.
- Provide time for them to express their reactions to the loss, especially in unanticipated deaths.
- Be sure to utilize employee assistance programs and outsiders to assist in the employees expressing their feelings. In cases of intense sudden loss, suicide, and multiple losses, professional debriefers may need to be called in.
- Make sure that employees have a way to express their sympathies as noted above–a card or acknowledgment or donation to a charity or an acknowledgment on the internet such as Tributes.com can help employees feel they collectively care about this loss.
- Companies often underestimate the feelings that people have for their bosses. In adulthood, for some, bosses can be our authority figures, our mothers and fathers; and the leadership and guidance they provided was an important part of the relationship with their boss. And unlike the stereotypical TV version, many people like their bosses, have enormous loyalty to their bosses and suffer great grief when they die.
- Employees may feel very conflicted that they are worried about their own livelihood and what changes this will mean to them if there is a possible reorganization or who will be their new boss. It can feel very selfish to be worrying about your own job when someone has died. Employees need to understand that a loss can have many different impacts, personally as well as security to the company and even their own job security.
- Let employees know what the plans are to deal with the business aspects of how their boss’s duties will be reassigned and how rehiring will be done. Employees also need to know that they may be likely to have mixed feelings about a new boss who replaces the boss they loved and cared about.