When a staff member dies

When someone dies, as well as affecting family and friends, it will have an impact at their place of work. Here's our guide for employers for when a staff member has died.

When a colleague dies, employers need to think carefully about how to support other employees, the family of the staff member who has died, as well as remembering to look after yourself.

The impact of the death of an employee 

  • The death of an employee can have an impact on the whole workforce. It can be especially difficult if the death was sudden, happened at work or if multiple friends and family members are all employed by the same place. 
  • How you handle the death of an employee can have long-lasting implications on the relations between the employer, the workforce and the wider community. 
  • Communicating the news of the death in a sensitive way is key.
  • It’s important to remember that some people will be particularly affected and will need more support. For example, the team members of the person who died or colleagues who were close friends

Dealing with the death of an employee

  • Contact the family or closest friends to offer your condolences.
  • Make it easy for them to contact you if they have any questions about pay, or pension arrangements.
  • Allow staff members to have time off during the time after the death and to attend the funeral
  • Personal touches like organising a book of condolences can also go a long way to show your support.
  • Ask the family and friends about the best way to commemorate the person
  • Be considerate of religious beliefs and how diversity might affect the way they’re grieving 
  • Consider a phased return to work for people who have been affected
  • Be aware of the effect the death might have on performance
  • Think about ways to remember the person in the workplace and allow all staff members to contribute. (link Ways to Remember blog)

Things to avoid 

  • Ignoring the situation.
  • Assuming you know how the bereaved employee is feeling – remember that everyone grieves differently. 
  • Saying anything that may minimise or undermine the loss, such as ‘we all have to go sometime’ or ‘she had a good innings’.
  • Minimising their pain with phrases like ‘time is a great healer’ ‘pull yourself together’ or ‘it must be a great relief for you’.
  • Making the assumption that just because they are back at work they are ‘over it’ and ‘back to normal’.

Andrea’s story 

Andrea, a team leader at a cleaning company, was killed in a road crash driving home from work. The managing director, Peter, received a call from one of Andrea’s close friends, a co-worker during that evening in a very distressed state.

Although Peter was shaken himself, he spoke to members of Andrea’s team as soon as they arrived at work and then called all the staff together to tell them personally what had happened, express his condolences to Andrea’s friends and colleagues, and explain how the company would be supporting Andrea’s family and affected employees. He allowed members of Andrea’s team to go home early if they wished – most declined as they found it helpful to be together even though they were not able to focus well on work.

Peter set up a small group of employees to help the organisation through the situation. Key customers who might be affected were contacted and proved very supportive. Other teams in the business stepped in to take on some of the work of Andrea’s team. Peter spoke to Andrea’s family to express his condolences and to ensure that the company observed their wishes for the funeral. As a mark of respect the company closed for two hours on the morning of the funeral so that everyone who wanted to could attend.

Over time Peter noticed that his relationship with many employees had changed. They were happier to approach him directly with thoughts and ideas and despite losing a close colleague their motivation seemed very good. There were still difficult days but overall the business had gained in standing and reputation from the way it had reacted to a terrible situation.

This article contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

For more information on managing bereavement in the workplace read the acas guidance on managing bereavement in the workplace – produced in consultation with Cruse Bereavement Care.