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Appropriately Handling a Death in the Office

Appropriately Handling a Death in the Office

There has been a death in the office of one my friends.

death in the officeHer coworker completed a suicide.  He was a manager and had people reporting to him.  They are stunned.  They don’t even know what they feel.  One might wonder, “What happens now?  How do the people who worked for him behave?  How do they work at their desks?”

Because it was a suicide that just complicates things.  Beyond the stigma that is attached to suicide that is so negative, the guilt of “shoulda, coulda, woulda” steps into your mind.  In some religions it is unspeakable.  In some countries it is illegal.  Did you know that one in four people are touched by suicide?  Did you know the rate of death by suicide is higher than the rate of death by homicide?

Grieving is uncomfortable anywhere but in the office it’s downright awkward.  After all, “He was just a coworker.  We’re not that attached to them, right?”  The entire landscape of the office changed in one phone call from the man’s family.  Now the people who worked for him are supposed to get to work on that big ol’ project that’s late and get it done.  What if they didn’t really know him or like him.  But here they are affected this event.  Should they have known this was coming?  Should they have done something?

When someone you know at the work place dies, whether you know the person well or not, you are a survivor which means you will grieve.  These are the stages of grief widely followed, researched and presented by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross:

  • Denial – it can’t be true
  • Anger – what was he thinking
  • Bargaining – make it not true
  • Depression – this is more intangible but behaviors attached to lack of interest
  • Acceptance – this is always the last stage

Grief is not a straight line.  The most challenging point is that grieving has its own path.  You have no idea when you’ll get to acceptance.  There is not a logical rhythm to grief.  Death touches everyone differently.  From each person’s vantage point their needs are vastly different.  Based on their own previous loss, history, fears, needs, how they show and manage emotion will affect how they grieve.  If they are more connected to the person lost, do they get to feel more during this time?  Who knows?  In the world of grief there are no hard answers.  But there are behaviors that can be implemented which could alleviate some of the pain.  Those behaviors are kindness, tolerance and leaving room for people to talk about their own experience.  In a work place this can be uncomfortable so there are support groups that can help people who might be touched harder than others.


Suicide Prevention Resource Center


Contact your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for additional resources.

Contact Us Today if You Think You Need Coaching through a Death in the Office

If you find yourself troubled with a death in the work place and need the right guidance and coaching to handle sensitive issues, call or email Pat Weiland, Executive Coach and President of Sage Strategies.
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