Coping with a colleague’s death is not something we find in the company training manual or HR Policy. How can you ever be prepared for getting the call telling you your close colleague or working buddy is gone? For sharing the news with staff? For cleaning out their desk, full of hand written notes and personal reminders of a work friend?
Our society has entered into a reality of collective grief following a pandemic that has claimed almost 21 000 lives so far, it is important that we understand how to help one another get through loss. You might find yourself straddling the grief of losing a friend and managing logistics after their death.
Here are some tips for teams to cope with a colleague’s passing
Be authentic with your team
Grief is a natural stage of life but our society often wants to rush trough it. As employees in a corporate environment we may often feel pressure to remain posed and in control when things fall apart, but sometimes we need to display vulnerability not composure. You and your staff need to be able to express emotions freely. Companies need to give employees the platform to experience their own process of grieving.
Clearing the deceased colleague’s desk
As a friend or close colleague of the deceased you might be the person the family will contact for questions, HR might request your help to fill out paperwork, and IT may pester you for equipment, while you have little control over the actual process.
Take time to clear the deceased desk, do not rush through the process throwing all their belongings in boxes. Call the family to arrange a time convenient for them to collect the deceased’s belongings.
With many employees working from home, it will be requested that office equipment and files must be returned to the company. It is better for an employee to visit the deceased’s family after the funeral to collect the company’s belongings. Make a list in advance of all equipment and files that must be returned to ease the process for the family allowing them time to gather all equipment and files. Remember that they too are grieving and everyone handles grief differently. A visit to the family may not always a pleasant experience.
Be prepared for the colleague’s desk to be replaced with a new team member.
Reality is that the employee might be replaced by someone else. The new person will know that they have big shoes to fill. They are not replacing someone who found a better job opportunity or who got fired. They are replacing a person that was still a valued team member. Try to support the new colleague and befriend them. Teach them everything you can to enable them to be a good employee and team member. Remember that everyone works differently and has different work ethics and routines, do not to compare them to your previous colleague.
Keep the memory alive
Honor the colleague’s legacy. A good way to honor a legacy is by raising funds for the deceased favorite charity. Do not just collect funds from other colleagues, try to make a day of it. Have a fun run or event in remembrance of the deceased legacy. This will also give everyone a last change to say their final good-bye.
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