How to Cope When a Coworker Dies

It can happen after a long struggle, or it can come unexpectedly; either way, your office may feel weighed down when a coworker passes away. The situation can alter your daily routine, interactions with colleagues, and outlook on work—and the need to meet deadlines in spite of these feelings can lead to physical and emotional side effects.

A colleague’s death can cause stress, lack of focus, disrupted eating and sleeping habits, or depression in severe cases. People who cope by burying themselves in work can suffer burnout and exhaustion as well. Regardless of your job position, take proper action after a coworker passes to ease the grieving process and maintain your own health:

What to do as an employee

  • Grieve with your coworkers. Your relationship with the employee will determine how you mourn; even if you did not share positive encounters with them, focus on constructive emotions. You and your colleagues may share similar feelings, so it may be beneficial to schedule discussion time with them.
  • Honor your coworker. Place a physical token in the office, such as a plaque, bench, or plant, to commemorate the employee. If possible, arrange a group memorial service to share memories of them and mourn together.
  • Do something special for the family. While your office grieves, your colleague’s family also suffers from the stress of planning a funeral and mourning their loved one. Pool resources together and send a gift: flowers, dinner at a restaurant, a card, photos of your coworker in the office, or a service such as house cleaning.
  • Don’t expect to feel “normal.” Death will change your office atmosphere and make things feel “off,” so don’t enforce normalcy or routine. Everyone grieves on a different timeline, so be flexible if others have trouble getting back to work.
  • Welcome new replacements. If your manager hires a new employee to replace the one who passed away, help them transition into the office. Depending on how quickly your company hires them, the employee may arrive as your workplace still copes with its loss. Give new colleagues the resources to succeed at their jobs, and explain how they can help coworkers re-establish workflows.

What to do as a manager

  • Explain the news to your employees. To prevent misinformation or gossip from filtering through the office, gather people together as soon as possible to explain the situation. Contact absent employees to avoid blindsiding them when they return to work.
  • Provide steps for moving forward. Check with your human resources department about company counseling services (sometimes referred to as Employee Assistance Programs), or other protocols for addressing an employee’s passing. People may not know how to cope with the loss, so pass on information about these services. You may be able to schedule counseling sessions for employees to share their thoughts as a group.
  • Be open with replacements. If you hire someone to replace the deceased employee, explain the circumstances so they can remain sensitive to the situation.

A colleague’s death will challenge every employee in some way. Finding the proper resources to cope with the loss can preserve your health and re-establish productivity at work.


Image credit: Flickr