Guidelines for Managers and Supervisors

Job performance is affected:
Be aware that death may affect employee productivity and motivation. When a co-worker dies, the often unemotional work world is suddenly out of our control. “It can’t happen to me” just happened to the person in the next office. Expect some loss of productivity, motivation, especially from people close to the deceased. 

When compassion is demonstrated by the institution, grieving employees become better workers.

The following is from the University of Michigan’s Faculty And Staff Assistance Program.

Helping Your Grieving Staff Member:

  • Handle the situation in a sensitive but forthright manner.
  • Set an example for open communication of everyone – establish contact with the grieving employee(s) as soon as possible.
  • Feeling awkward and not knowing what to say to grieving employees is normal. Nevertheless, it is important to acknowledge their grief and loss openly.
  • Acknowledge their loss by sharing your reaction: “I’m so sorry about….” Always respect the confidential nature of personal or medical information unless permission has been given to share it with others.
  • Be patient, compassionate, optimistic and available to listen. Do more listening than talking. Expect an employee will need to talk about the loss many times, especially during holidays and anniversaries which are extra difficult.
  • Periodic tears and low spirits are typical. Ask about specific things you might do to help: do they want any information shared with others, do they need help with their work? It’s a time that demands flexibility.
  • Make sure you ask what you can share and what is confidential.
  • Don’t expect employees to “snap out of it” or expect their grief will go away quickly. You need to create an accepting environment where grieving is seen as a process that takes time and is normal, yet work can progress.
  • When a specific individual is not coping well, shows signs of depression or their grieving response is beyond the range of emotions seen in others, seek consultation from FSAP for additional guidance.
  • In the case of suicide, advise the worker about the usefulness of survivor support groups. FSAP will help connect them with an appropriate group or individual.

Helping Other Staff

Ensure your staff know the facts if the loss is made public: what happened, any funerals or memorials that are planned, resources to help cope during the stressful times. This is a good time to address any rumors regarding the event.

In acute situations (homicides, suicides, overdoses) the event produces even more employee shock, disbelief, and questions such as “what” and “why” it happened. These need to be discussed openly to clarify facts, dispel rumors, and allow grieving to begin. A counselor from FSAP can be used to facilitate group meetings.

Encourage staff to provide mutual support and sharing with each other. Encourage employees to participate in expressions of their grief to families and loved ones (flowers, cards, meals, anything practical to help the family). One employee may volunteer to be the primary worksite contact with the family.

If the grief impacts many staff members and disrupts normal operations, plan for coverage or back-up services. The Department of Human Resources, Employment Services Office can consult with you on planning for maintenance of your department operations or services.

Acknowledge the strain on co-workers who shoulder additional workloads while coping with their own feelings. Let them know that you are concerned for them, too.

If a Staff Member Dies

Call a meeting of other staff. Clarify the facts. Give permission to grieve and talk about feelings. Unanticipated deaths, particularly suicides, may require additional times to talk.

Bring in assistance for meeting and talking with workers if feelings are intense or prolonged. In the case of suicides, debriefing may be particularly important. Counselors from FSAP are available at short notice.

Be sure that employees know of funeral arrangements and have time to attend.
Appropriately acknowledge the worker who died – a charitable donation, bulletin board, a tribute in the employee newsletter.