Coping with the death of a colleague

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Health Assured team

30 January 2023

There’s no way to prepare for grief. And when a colleague dies, it impacts everyone in the workplace. 

You don’t even have to work closely with the person. When someone from your workplace passes away, it creates a ripple effect that spans across the organisation.  

Disbelief, frustration, deep sadness, longing, numbness, the list goes on. Grief can bring up waves of different emotions—the experience will be different for everyone. But when these feelings arise in the workplace, it can be even more challenging.

When a colleague dies, the impact can spread far and wide, some logistics need to be considered such as packing up the person’s belongings, picking up workloads and announcing the news. It’s not an easy job—and it’s a process that needs to be treated with care. 

In this article, we’ll look in a little more detail at how to cope when dealing with the death of an employee.

It’s OK not to be OK

This one goes for yourself and your colleagues around you. You might find you're struggling with underlying rules about what emotions are acceptable, especially in the workplace. But sometimes pretending and putting on a brave face means we bottle our emotions up over time, which can cause further issues.

Remember that however you’re feeling—it’s okay. Allow yourself to process the events that unfold in the coming days, weeks and months. Give yourself the time to go through the motions and be supportive of others as they do the same. If you can normalise these challenging emotions, it encourages an environment that connects colleagues rather than creating separation.

Honouring the employee

Some workplaces find it helpful to honour the person who has passed. This recognition can help people make peace with the situation and find a way to keep a positive memory of the person alive. It could be fundraising money for a charity that meant a lot to them, holding a celebration in their honour or simply acknowledging the hard work they dedicated to your organisation.

Prioritise yourself 

The waves of emotion you feel after losing someone can be a lot to handle. If you find the feelings you are experiencing overwhelming, try to focus on looking after yourself above anyone else. Looking after the basics like staying hydrated, getting enough sleep and eating a healthy diet, will help support your mental health. 

Spend some time doing things you enjoy and know that these feelings you're having won't last forever—they never do. 

On-going support

Bereavement can bring up a lot of emotions. Grief is a process, and this can look different for everyone. If you’re struggling with challenging emotions, make sure you discuss with your manager what kind of support is available.

If you have an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) with Health Assured, you can contact the helpline at any time. Our counsellors are here to listen to you and provide a confidential space for you to explore your emotions. They can also support you with coping techniques to help you manage difficult emotions im the moment.  

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