Dealing with the death of a team member – advice for business owners and managers

18 July 2019

The death of an employee is a traumatic experience for those who are left to deal with the loss of a team member. Whichever company response is chosen; it is important that the death of any staff member should be treated equally.

This means that if a memorial service is held for a senior manager or director the same should apply for all employees, no matter their position. This illustrates a business’ commitment to equality of respect and will go a long way in building a culture of inclusion.

Informing Staff

For business owners and managers, the death of an employee comes as a shock, creating stress, uncertainty and personal feelings of loss. How to share this news with employees is an immediate concern that must be handled sensitively. The first responsibility is to inform and assist the management that will inform members of the business about the death of a co-worker.


Staff should be informed as promptly as possible to avoid speculation and rumours. How this is done depends on the company, its size and its culture. A small company may call all employees together. Larger companies may rely on management to speak with their individual departments and will probably spend more time with those employees who worked most closely with the deceased.

A follow up notification to all employees is also important to deal with more practical considerations and to address common questions that employees are likely to have once the initial shock sets in. Aspects that need to be addressed are when and where memorial services will be held, if employees will be allowed to take time off from work to attend the services and the availability of counselling.

Tammi Cerf, Human Resource Manager at Zestlife says, “Sensitivity is key, and it is important to recognise that we all deal with grief differently and there is no right or wrong way of doing so.”

Time to Grieve

Tammi goes on to say, “Despite the initial pain of loss experienced by surviving employees, the saying that time heals is certainly true in the case of an employee’s death and it is critical to allow the time to grieve.  Business owners can help by providing “permission” for the organisation to grieve through formal, as well as, informal means. This is important not only for staff, but for the organisation as well, because it´s a tangible and visible way of saying “this person mattered to us.”

It is recommended to set aside a particular time as soon after the death as possible to have the staff come together. Perhaps have photographs of the person who has died in a prominent place and some staff may want to speak about their memories of that person. A business may also wish to consider inviting someone from the community – a social worker or grief counsellor – to help facilitate this gathering.

One issue that business owners and managers have to be concerned about, Tammi adds, is that “Business is not family and that despite the close relationships that are created in the workplace, the distinction must be respected. This may mean avoiding language such as: we´re all family or we all love each other and focus on statements like: he was a valuable employee or she contributed a great deal to us.”

Getting Back to Work

While the grieving process is different for each individual and the length of time it takes to deal with the death of a co-worker also varies. There comes a point when the practical considerations of getting the job done must come to the forefront.

It doesn´t mean that time limits are placed on the period of grieving, but the efficient functioning of the organisation cannot be halted, and employees must and do appreciate this.

On a practical level there are issues to deal with such as redistribution of work and the pay-out of insurance benefits.

Often, in the absence of group life or funeral cover, there is an expectation from the employee’s family that the employer will make a contribution to cover funeral costs. This is not a legal requirement but frequently becomes a moral obligation. Group benefits are less expensive than you might think and protects not only your business but your staff and their families too.

Get an obligation free quote today and learn how to avoid paying out of the running costs of your business.

Having employee benefits also help attract and retain the best employees. Read more here.