I recently had to email my manager about a change in my schedule for the upcoming week. This fell over a weekend, so I contacted him on a Sunday morning to let him know as soon as I could about this change. I was surprised, but immediately taken aback, at the response I got back, “Sure. I don’t know how much I will be in this week. My brother was killed in an accident over the weekend.”
I let out an, “Oh my gosh,” as I couldn’t believe the words that I was reading. I think I read them over quite a few times just to make sure that I read them right, before realizing that I wasn’t making them up. My manager’s brother had only retired a few years earlier, and just remarried a little over a year before. His life was cut short in an instant, and my manager was left without a brother who he was quite close to.
I knew that I had to deliver the news to a few coworkers who worked alongside our team. As someone who likes to write, and enjoys working with words, I had a hard time coming up with the right ones to tell my coworkers about what happened. While I did my best, it’s hard to give justice to something as devastating as describing the loss of someone’s life.
As the work week began, I watched and took note of the different ways our team came together to help my boss while he was out. You could tell it was uncomfortable to talk about with some people, but nonetheless, everyone put forth their best effort and made their concern known when hearing about this tragedy.
That is why I wanted to share some insight on how to be there for your team when tragedy strikes. While it’s not the most common, or comfortable, topic to talk about, it’s still a part of life that we all must face someday. Here are just some words of wisdom, from someone who unfortunately had to face this most recently herself.
Take the time you need
While this seems like common sense, it doesn’t hurt to reiterate it to your employee. Let that person know to take care of what’s important, and to not let the worry of work be in their minds because your team has it covered. No matter what the circumstances, when it comes to losing a loved one, it’s always good to let the person know that you are all there for them during this difficult time.
Be sure to cover the tasks at hand that this person is charge of and let them know of that.
Along the lines of taking the time they need to be with their loved ones, assure them that their work assignments and tasks can be taken care of by others while they are out. A business doesn’t fall apart if someone can’t be there for a little bit. Reassure or simply reiterate to your employee that their focus should be with their family, and that work should always take a second seat to anything that hits close to their heart.
Depending on the position of the person, and the responsibilities they hold, make sure you give their assignments to people who know their roles and understand the tasks at hand. Tell your team that it’s important to fill in the void left by this person while they are out, but that you would encourage the same behavior should something happen to one of them where they must be out of the office as well.
Honor the Wishes of the Family
In reading the obituary of the person who has passed, I would take note of the wishes that the family has named. For instance, “In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to….” or “Please make a donation to the [charity of their choice] in their memory.” While it’s easy and convenient to send an array of beautiful flowers to show your support, taking note of something important to the family’s heart can mean more to them in long run.
You could also do a mixture of both, where you send a smaller bouquet of flowers alongside a smaller donation to the charity of their choice. This way you not only fulfill the wishes of the family, but also appease the traditional way of sending of your condolences to the family and your co-worker.
Depending on preparations and requests, try to make it to the services.
This can be uncomfortable for many people, not just for those who identify as introverts. However, stopping by to pay your respects can go a long way for the person who works alongside you. At times, the family may only offer private viewing or memorials and not make it open to the public. Make sure to review that information before making preparations to stop by.
If you work closely alongside this person, it would be appropriate to make an appearance and see your co-worker. If you are worried about going by yourself, take other people from your team as well. Going with other people not only shows your support as a team, but also as people who deeply care about their fellow co-workers. Your employee will be deeply touched by seeing all those who came out, and you will look back and be happy that you were there for support during this difficult time.
Based on your relationship with the person, sending a simple text, email, or card can really make a big difference to a person.
If you find out that a coworker has lost a loved one, but you don’t work closely with them, then reaching out in a simple manner can go a long way. After the death of my manager’s brother, cards and emails came pouring in from people all over the company. They didn’t write much, just offered their sincerest condolences on his loss. Other people banded together and signed a card passing along their words of sympathy.
The amount of support showed throughout the company was truly touching and emotional. Throughout the experience, I learned that you don’t have to say much to get your message across, and sometimes, all you need to put down is a simple saying that can express your feelings in the sincerest ways.