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Death in the Workplace

Dealing With the Death of a Co-Worker

By Dawn Rosenberg McKay, Guide

The death of a colleague leaves both a personal and professional void in a workplace. We spend many hours of our lives with our co-workers. We form relationships with them, even if those relationships consist of merely saying hello as you pass by someone’s desk each morning. A co-worker’s death can mean the loss of a friend, but also the loss of someone we depend on to help us do our jobs.One generally isn’t given sufficient time to mourn the death of a co-worker. When a relative dies, we are given a few days off to mourn. When a close friend dies, you can usually take a personal day to grieve. However, when a colleague dies, an entire office cannot simply stop working.

The employer, who may be personally touched by the death of an employee, must also confront the effect the death will have on his business. The departed employee had a specific role in the workplace. He or she had a job that still must get done. Generally, the position can’t just be eliminated. It falls upon management to replace someone who, on personal level, may seem irreplaceable. Co-workers must accept someone new occupying a job and possibly the desk of their departed colleague. They must make this new person feel welcome.

Death of a Co-Worker: Honoring His or Her Memory

Co-workers should be encouraged to share their grief. Perhaps they can get together at lunch to discuss their feelings about, and memories of, their deceased co-worker. They can organize a memorial service before or after work.In addition to a memorial service, co-workers can find other, more permanent ways, to memorialize their colleague. Events can be dedicated as a tribute to someone or rooms can be named after him or her. Think about naming the annual company picnic after a lost co-worker. That way, the person can be remembered at a time of celebration, not only at a time of mourning.

Another way to memorialize someone is to establish some sort of fund in that person’s name. Perhaps a scholarship fund can be set up for his or her children. Maybe money can be donated to that person’s favorite charity, or if the person died of a particular illness, money can be donated to that cause.

Most important, give yourself a chance to remember the person you lost. Think of the positive contributions he or she made to your life and to the lives of others. Try to make similar contributions.

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