How to Tell Your Boss About a Death

At some point in time in our adult lives, unfortunately, it’s likely that each of us will experience the death of a loved one or friend—and it will require us to approach our immediate supervisor or manager to inform them of the situation. 

The most immediate issue that comes into play in a situation such as this is that death in the workplace is an especially awkward manifestation of our society’s general discomfort with grief.  In a properly functioning workplace, there are boundaries between ourselves and others in the way we dress, the way we speak together, the way we behave, and the emotions that we share.  When a death or a loss situation is present—many of these workplace “norms” get thrown out the window.  Someone passing away is part of our personal lives, but it is so important and affects us so deeply that it does impact our professional lives as well.

Of course, this is not necessarily an easy task when you are feeling vulnerable and grief-stricken.  However, it also doesn’t have to be an overly complicated one either—and your boss doesn’t have to make it so.  Here’s how to deal with grief in the workplace, as well as some tips for managers and business leaders on how to help an employee who is dealing with loss.

When a Sudden and Unexpected Tragedy Occurs

If you have experienced a sudden death in the family, contact your immediate supervisor or your human resources department to give them whatever details you may be aware of at this point.  For instance, “My grandmother died. Her funeral is on Wednesday and I’ll be back in the office again on [date].”

However, if the death is of a spouse, child, parent, or sibling, know that these individuals are usually considered immediate family.  Tell your supervisor, “My spouse passed away.  The funeral is on Wednesday and I have no idea when I’ll be back in the office.  The funeral will be at [location] and it’s an open ceremony.”  Only provide that information if you are fine with your supervisor sharing the details with your co-workers and if you don’t mind having people from your office attend the ceremony or visitation.  You shouldn’t feel as if you need to personally send an email to your co-workers to break the news.  If you have the wherewithal (and it’s okay if you don’t), set up an auto-responder saying that there has been a death in your family and that a specific person is the point person while you are away.  Make sure you provide that individual’s contact information with their approval.

How a Business Leader and Company/Office Should Cope

First off, show compassion to the employee.  Do not press them for details or make them feel like they are being interrogated.  We have read horror stories about managers asking for a note from the funeral director and even requesting a death certificate of the deceased. These are major no-nos! Don’t even think about taking that route if you value your employee at all. It’s likely they are feeling overwhelmed and stressed right now and the last thing that is on their mind is work and other responsibilities.  At the same time, the company should follow some specific rules when handling this employee’s absence and loss.

The company should contact the funeral home to find out what the appropriate observance would be.  Remember, some religions or cultures may welcome flowers and others may not.  Or, a certain color flower may be desired, while other types of colors of flowers may not be.  Also, if the obituary names a charity or organization to support, it is also appropriate to make a donation there.  Co-workers, so long as they are invited, can show their support for their colleague by attending any public mourning event.

It is especially important to note that the company should be careful to not express condolences or make any sort of official announcement on social media.  There have been instances where immediate family members of the deceased found out about the death of their loved one this way and it is shocking.

Additionally, a company should make every effort to be flexible.  It is understandable that there are rules and policies to follow, but showing kindness is also important.  As a supervisor, you will discover that your employee will be much more willing to go above and beyond when they are fully recovered from their grief if you show some compassion and understanding to them at this time. While we have such a short period of time in our culture for recognizing grief in the workplace, usually three to five days, it is unrealistic to expect an employee to come back and get on with things this quickly.

BLT Strategies regularly coaches both employees suffering from grief and employers who are looking to ensure their workers are taken care of during life changing events. For more information on our service offering, visit www.BLTStrategies.com.