Dealing with death in the work family
Birthdays. Babies. Weddings. These are things we know how to celebrate with our coworkers. We pass around cards, have cake at lunch, and go in on a group gift. But when there is a death in the work family, many of us have no idea how to help. In Relate's new series, Tough talk, Leslie O'Flahavan shows how to best express sympathy through the written word, but how else can we support a coworker in their moment of grief?
Avoid the email avalanche. A death in the family is difficult. Add to it a huge number of unanswered emails, and the grief and stress only multiplies. When someone is out of the office, no matter the reason, the emails never seem to stop. We all do it—emailing others just to keep them in the loop. The problem is that the loop is one tangled mess once your coworker returns from bereavement.
Solution: Give your coworker the space they need. If you want to keep them in the loop about a project, start a shared document where everyone can add notes. That way when your coworker returns, they have one centralized location to catch up on everything they missed.
Go one step further: Send a friendly email to those your coworker regularly interacts with and let them know about the bereavement. Ask everyone to please hold off on emailing the bereaved, or direct all concerns to you while they are away.
Be like a large Italian family and feed them. Grief continues well after the funeral. Once home, and even back to work, doing the simple things like going to the grocery store can be a challenge.
Solution: Help your coworker by sending them food. Leave a cooler on their front porch and arrange for concerned friends to drop-off a family-sized meal each day. Have a group that can't cook? There are many on-demand food services, like meals from Munchery, or a delivery of warm cookies. With today’s options, it’s easy to find something yummy to brighten your coworker's day.
Go one step further: Take them out to lunch once they return from bereavement. Even if it’s only a short jaunt to get out of the office, walking helps reduce stress and the sunshine can help the grieving process.
Make their day without flowers. Grief is a very personal experience. Everyone deals with it differently, both at work and at home. However, almost everyone in grief forgets to spoil themselves. Flowers can brighten a desk, but flowers die.
Solution: Send your grieving coworker a box full of smiles. Create a gift box filled with little items to bring joy—a good bottle of wine, a fun puzzle, or even a silly photo from all of you.
Go one step further: Help your coworker spoil themselves by sending a gift certificate for a spa day. Everyone needs a way to step back and take a breath, especially when they are grieving.
It can hard to know how to handle the intricacies of work relationships, especially when tough emotions are involved. Support your coworker by giving them breathing room, plenty of pampering, and an assurance that work duties are covered while they are out. They might not ever remember what you did, but that’s the point. Your support gave them time to think about what’s really important. Work will be there when they return.
Amy Higgins is a senior manager for Zendesk and a frequent contributor to Relate. When she’s not online, you can find her at the opera, listening to jazz, or on the hunt for the latest foodie craze. Find Amy on Twitter: @AmyWHiggins