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What to Do & How to Lead When an Employee Passes Away

Under any circumstances, the passing away of an employee presents an overwhelming leadership challenge. All focus will be on you as the leader/manager, and how you react will have a massive impact on your team.

Everybody in the organization will remember how you and your business handled the situation. Provision of both support and guidance at this time will lead to your staff feeling cared for and result in faith in your leadership abilities.

If you ever lose an employee, here are some tips on what to do and ensure you navigate through the crisis successfully.

Employee Passes Away

What should be your immediate response?

An accidental death or a wrongful death in the workplace such as a slip and fall injury can be very unexpected and extremely distressing for your employees.

While we all hope this will never happen, if it does, it is best to get in touch with the employee’s family immediately and inquire from them how much info they feel comfortable sharing about the accident. At times, the family might wish that some information be kept private — for example, the cause of death — and it is right to respect their wishes.

Next, officially notify your members of staff about the death of their colleague. Let HR and the team that worked closely with the late worker know about his/her demise first, in private, before making a general announcement. Remember, only share whatever information the family is comfortable letting the public know.

At this point, you can provide details about the funeral services or any memorials the company may be arranging. Also, if the deceased has business relationships with customers, clients, or suppliers outside your company, you will want to notify them in a respectable manner. Lastly, make it clear who will temporarily handle emails and phone calls directed to the employee. 

Staff support

A good leader helps his team transition smoothly through the grieving period. There are many things as a leader you can do to help.

First, recognize both the professional and personal impact the loss of an employee has on the organization. No matter how little time the individual has spent in the company, employees will have a personal relationship with the late, and a significant impact is likely to be felt.

Workplace leaders should always reach out to their teams on a personal basis, announce that they are available if anyone wants to talk about the loss of a colleague, and notify the team of any resources that the company would like to make available as a response to any stress, anxiety, or emotional suffering that colleagues may experience. These resources can include mental health counseling, therapy, and even paid time off. After all, it is normal to spend the majority of the day forming close relationships with coworkers; losing a coworker can sometimes be as traumatic as losing a close friend or family member. Ben Spielberg of TMS & Brain Health advises that a leader should pay careful attention to their team for signs that their anxiety may need professional treatment.

Be patient with them and let the grieving process take place naturally. Also, look out for signs and symptoms of grief while forwardly helping the most affected employees.

One way of helping your staff deal with this distress is by appreciating the contributions of the late and honoring their memory. For instance, holding a memorial service or permitting both on- and off-duty staff members to attend the funeral gives them the chance to celebrate life and honor their coworkers. Besides, it allows survivors to bond and encourage each other.

Some employees may need help long after the memorial and funeral ceremonies have concluded. Say, a well-thought-out critical incident stress management session or debriefing may be warranted. Additionally, an employee assistance program might also provide grief counseling for those needing extra support.  

Payroll issues when an employee passes away

Your payroll department must compute the final payment owed to the deceased employee. Ensure this is channeled to the late employee’s personal representative, generally the estate’s executor.

Consider whether the employee was:  

  • Due any outstanding payments for unused holidays
  • Due any outstanding payments of salaries or wages
  • Receiving statutory payments, for example, maternity pay
  • Due to make payment from their paychecks, such as child support payment or student loan
  • Entitled to any benefits
  • Entitled to any death benefits as part of the employer’s Workers Compensation fund

Getting back to “normal”

Carrying on with the usual business is challenging; however, it is your job as a leader to forge ahead. Delicately and respectfully delegate the duties of the late staff member to those who can comfortably handle them. It would be a while since the loss occurred; therefore, start searching for a permanent replacement. Productivity and motivation are likely to be low all this time, but your understanding, patience, and guidance should come in handy.

Handle the technological open-wounds by forwarding all emails correctly and changing voice mail recordings. Additionally, cover security issues by changing all your deceased employee’s security and log-in privileges, simply as you would do for a retired or terminated employee.      

The office space of your departed employee is perhaps the most sensitive, symbolic area of your team’s environment.  Brainstorm as a group the best and proper ways to alter the space. Your end goal is to create a comforting but fitting change. 

For instance, you could transform their old office space into a break room where employees can reflect and relax. Alternatively, consider using their desk as a spot to place fresh flowers and exhibit industry-related magazines and books.  

Workers Compensation

Bottom line

In whatever you do this trying period, keep your employees in mind. Be as sympathetic and sensitive as you can be.

Ultimately, your organization will assume a new “normal.” But the efficiency and speed with which the transition will happen will be primarily determined by your leadership capabilities.

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