Throughout my career, I have unfortunately had to assist quite a few clients through crisis involving death. Death is one of the most difficult news to communicate, whether it be the death of an employee in a work-related accident, the death of a charismatic CEO, or the accidental death of a customer on our client’s premises. Most often though, it is the natural death of a work colleague outside the workplace, but the news still has to be communicated… and it is still hard whatever the circumstance.
People react differently to death. This results in the fact that there is no best-practice formula that can be applied when talking about death. It is even more the case in our multi-cultural society, where culture, norms, religions differ so much and add-on to individual’s life’s experience.
The only best-practice that is relevant is that we need to deal with it rapidly, because if we don’t, cell phones will be ringing and social medias will get hold of the news. Then we face the double risk of inaccuracy and lack of compassion. Depending on the circumstances of the death, the media will pick up quickly on what is going around on social networks, and before you know it, the death of someone in your workplace is making news, but with varying angles.
Yet again, even though one needs to be very adaptable, it is best to be prepared:
- Ensure that there is a single point of contact with the family and liaise as much as possible with them to prepare whatever communication will be going out, in order to avoid different interpretations.
- And like many other kinds of communication, it can be easier to talk about death if you prepare your course of action in advance and it is essential to have a process in place before the unthinkable happens, even if it is a bit of a morbid preparation. What should you think of? For example, one must be ready for the media and know, in advance, what kind of info can
be shared or not. For your employees, do we have a plan already to provide a means for them to grieve? Do you already have multiple channels of communication up and ready in case you need to use them?
The list is much longer – preparation will make dealing with death in the workplace a little bit less painful.