Under any circumstances, the death of an associate provides a daunting leadership challenge. All eyes will be on you as leader and how you respond will echo throughout the team. Your team will never forget your response. Neither will you. Effective provision of both guidance and support will lead to your team feeling cared for in the workplace and result in loyalty and faith in your leadership abilities.
The following suggestions can help you manage the difficult circumstances that can arise when one of your employees passes away:
Communicate compassionately and calmly
- Make every effort to communicate with the deceased’s closest coworkers as soon as possible. Ideally this happens in person but a telephone call is the next best option.
- Listen to what those impacted have to say. After all, listening is the most effective communication tool.
- Acknowledge the death and its broad range of impacts upon the team. Understand that not everyone will have the same reaction.
- Sometimes addressing self-care after a death feels disrespectful or irreverent. People may need permission to honor the person who died by pursuing self-care as well as life-giving activities to commemorate what the deceased valued and was known for.
- Make certain details such as cause of death are disclosed only after receiving permission from the family.
- Discover and share information regarding funeral and memorial services and how the workgroup can participate collectively and individually.
- It’s OK for you to express your feelings and can actually provide comfort for associates to see their leader(s) experience sympathy and compassion.
- There is tremendous power in a calm leadership presence.
Provide resources to support healthy grieving
- Engage Critical Incident Response consultants to support your leadership efforts and provide on-site support. These consultants will lead group meetings and be available for private conversations.
- Provide a private area where associates can mourn. Be sure to have tissues and beverages available.
- Promote EAP (employee assistance program) counseling and print resources.
Move forward sensitively
- People mourn differently. Some express feelings openly and some wish to return to tasks quickly. Some may wish to go home. Be realistic and flexible about performance expectations. Return to function in a way that respects the deceased.
- Be alert and sensitive to the fact that this death will likely trigger grief reactions to previous losses, so there may be more issues being stirred up in team members than are readily apparent. Simply acknowledging this fact is helpful.
Take care of yourself, too
- These are very difficult days and your own well-being will be taxed. You are human, too. Whereas you need to remain somewhat emotionally composed when engaged in leadership activities, the time will come when you must also focus on self-care. Allow yourself to work through these emotions and be kind to yourself during this time.
- Exercise your personal resilience strategies in a very intentional way.
- Seek support from your peers and supervisors as you lead your team.
If you are interested in learning more about setting up a critical incident plan and/or training leadership at your organization, please feel free to contact me personally at the Pine Rest Employee Assistance Program (firstname.lastname@example.org or 616.258.7548).