Bereavement and the Workplace: Working Through the Death of a Worker


Last updated on June 17th, 2023 at 03:39 pm

Do you still remember the sinking feeling you experienced when you heard about the death of your worker? That feeling of discomfort is called grief. 

The death of an employee is heart-rending under any circumstances, but it’s all the more upsetting if it is unexpected. 

While most of us work to make ends meet, it isn’t surprising that you get used to seeing your workers daily. Even though death is a universal truth, coping with the death of a worker isn’t included in employee handbooks or leadership training. 

Psychotherapists state that a worker’s death can impact you in unimaginable ways, even if they weren’t your close friend. A recent study by the National Institute of Health in 2022 reveals that complicated grief in older adults results in physical and psychological morbidity. 

Conversely, early research suggests that the annual financial loss in productivity due to grieving employees exceeds $75 billion. The real cost is believed to be far higher than what researchers state. 

Honestly, no one, not even managers, is prepared for these challenges, let alone the employees. Does it mean organizations will have to take the challenge head-on to guide the team through this difficult and emotional period while managing your emotions? Yes! 

Let us share healthy practices to cope with a worker’s death that can help. 

1. Acknowledge the Loss

We know that bereavement in the workplace can seem unnatural or foreign, and the loss of a worker is seldom considered a significant loss. But acknowledging the impact of a worker’s loss will allow them to express their feelings. 

By acknowledging the loss of your worker, you’re giving employees permission to grieve. 

2. Set Up a Forum for Group Discussions

When a fellow worker’s demise is unexpected, it laces employees with trauma. Even if it is predictable, the news of their passing away feels like a punch in the gut. 

You should consider setting up a forum for group discussions where employees can talk their hearts out. But bear in mind that managers aren’t therapists, and group discussions aren’t therapy sessions.

Ideally, a professional therapist from the business Employee Assistance Program (EAP) must lead the group discussion. If your organization lacks an EAP, a simple search for “therapist near me” on Google will bring forth numerous therapists at your disposal. 

According to Zencare, some people experience acute grief after losing a loved one for a year or more. But if grief remains intense for a long period of time, it turns into complicated grief. Surprisingly, women are more likely to develop complicated grief than men. 

When hiring a therapist for group discussions, check their specialization and qualifications to know how beneficial they will be for your employees. 

3. Show Up With Support

You can also send flowers to the deceased’s family. If you are able to organize sending flowers, it would be a great way to honor your beloved coworker.  

You can also send something else meaningful to the family, like a food basket, a catered meal service, lawn service, maid service, or a gift card. 

Other ways to support your worker’s grieving family members include donating funds to a scholarship for their children and creating a memorial book with work accomplishments and memories. 

Whatever support you show to your deceased worker’s family members will be remembered and appreciated, even if they don’t accept it. 

4. Hold a Memorial Service

If your workers couldn’t attend the funeral of your deceased employee, holding a memorial service could be helpful in coping with grief. A small memorial service will convey that you haven’t forgotten your decedent employee. 

You could also invite employees to share their favorite memories of the deceased. 

You can also plant a tree, create a simple bulletin board, or name a conference or meeting room after the deceased — these are all wonderful ways to honor them. 

5. Cultivate a Safe Space 

According to surveys, many workers claim they’d quit their job if their employer didn’t treat them well while grieving. Cultivating a safe space for grieving employees is important, as it’s something that will resonate with them for years. 

If you want your employees to be their true selves, foster a transparent and open culture. Your employees won’t have to put on a brave face so that others don’t feel uncomfortable. 

A Final Word on Coping With Grief

The pain of losing a worker can be overwhelming and can take a toll on employees’ mental health. 

Know that grief has no timeline, although its intensity may lessen for one year. Remember that people deal with loss in different ways. Just because an employee isn’t exhibiting the ‘typical’ signs of sorrow doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling. 

Also, urge your staff to seek help from a licensed therapist if they cannot cope with the loss of a fellow worker. 

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