Employee Mental Health

How to Support Your Team When an Employee Dies

Feb 7, 2024

As a manager, you are called on to solve a variety of problems, many of which are not called out in your job description. One of the most difficult challenges you may face as a manager is the death of a team member.

Though your acquired skills and past experience will help you fulfill your business responsibilities, you may find yourself feeling unqualified to help your team navigate the loss of a colleague. It’s our hope that this article will provide some tools and resources that can help if you find yourself in this position.

Be a positive part of the process

We tend to be selective about what parts of our personal life surface at work, often with good reason. Unfortunately, feelings of grief and loss, though deeply personal, are not easily checked at the “office door”. Much of your and your team’s grieving process will inevitably happen on the job. Accepting this is crucial so that you and your team can make appropriate accommodations.

Many managers do a great job at celebrating with their employees on birthdays and anniversaries, but showing up for your employees during a time of grief can be an even more powerful way to demonstrate how much you value and care for them.

Be sensitive of privacy

Obviously, the circumstances of a colleague’s passing can be extremely sensitive. Be sure that you (or an appropriate company representative) ask to clearly understand the preferences of the colleague’s family regarding what is communicated about their passing and memorial services. Respect their desires about what is done with the person’s belongings and on what timeline. Consider involving or consulting the family in memorial activities your team wishes to engage in.

Be authentic with your team

While respecting the privacy of your passed team member and their family, be open about what is going on. Of course, managers are not exempt from grief; in fact you may feel it more keenly than most. It’s important that you are open with your team if you find yourself heavily impacted. Not only will sharing in this way help relieve you of significant emotional burden, but your example will also demonstrate to your team that these conversations are safe to have, enabling them to benefit from open expression.

Consider dedicating time for your team members to discuss what happened, ask questions, and share memories of their passed colleague. It can be helpful for teams to take part in memorial services, whether held by the family or as a work group. Listen and accommodate as your team comes up with ways that will help them process this difficult event.

Be flexible

It is important to understand that everyone’s grieving process is different. As a manager, put extra effort into asking and listening so you have a clear sense of your team members state of mind and needs.

As your employees share, remember that empathy and a listening ear are generally much more helpful than encouragement or advice. However, you should remind employees of what resources your company offers for support. These could include bereavement time off or flexible work hours. Be sure to mention your company’s Tava benefit where your team members can talk to someone trained to help navigate the difficulties of grief and loss in healthy ways.

Working through grief can take time, so be especially patient with yourself and your employees in the meantime. Make sure your employees know they can ask for help when needed, and be ready to support struggling team members. Work with your stakeholders to make accommodations for your team’s productivity as needed. Communicate clearly and frequently so expectations can be effectively managed.

Ask for the support you need

The burden that you bear as a manager in the wake of a colleague’s death may be especially heavy. Make sure you are asking for the support you need. Give yourself extra kindness and grace. Navigating this experience will likely require additional time and energy from you, so consider simplifying your professional and personal life in the meantime.

This situation may add several new responsibilities to your workload, and may make even business-as-usual tasks feel more difficult. Consider recruiting help from colleagues as you care for your team members, adjust roles, and hire to cover your passed colleague’s responsibilities.

The death of a team member is not a challenge that a manager expects, nor one that they often feel prepared for. Nevertheless, we hope that the tools shared in this guide will help you lead your team through this difficult situation with grace and inspire greater kindness, consideration and unity in your organization.

For some reading this, we are privileged to be your company’s mental health partner. Regardless of your status with us, if there is any way we can be helpful to you or your team, please reach out to us at https://care.tavahealth.com or support@tavahealth.com.

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