How to share the news of an employee’s loss with the team
When a manager learns that an employee has suffered the loss of a loved one, the minutes and hours that follow are important for the employee, their family members, and their coworkers alike.
Clear communication and boundaries are key to creating a supportive system for everyone involved. With a well-thought-out plan, the family won’t be exhausted with questions about logistics, and team members will understand what is expected of them while their colleague is attending to family matters.
This begins with the announcement a manager sends to staff about the death of the employee’s loved one.
Share as much detail as possible
It may feel invasive to ask an employee how much information to share, especially in the moments when they are still absorbing the shocking, terrible news. But it is a kindness that can save the family time and the frustration of having to communicate one phone call, text, and email at a time.
Before drafting an announcement, make sure you’ve discussed with the employee what details they feel comfortable sharing, and what is likely to be forthcoming. Will funeral arrangements be shared, for instance? Or do they wish to convey that the family would appreciate privacy while they grieve their loss?
Set the expectations early, so that coworkers know how to express condolences in a way that the family appreciates.
Include a plan for covering the employee’s work
Another way to ease the strain on an employee who is suffering from a personal loss is to reassign their work quickly and communicate the plan clearly.
The goal is to eliminate all “quick question” emails and other interruptions while the employee is on bereavement leave. To achieve that, it is important to sketch out a temporary workflow and include it in the announcement of the loved one’s passing.
It is important to sketch out a temporary workflow and include it in the announcement of the loved one’s passing.
It can be something as simple as directing all questions and issues to the person’s supervisor, starting immediately, and promising a more detailed plan for covering their duties in the next 24 hours.
Once that plan is confirmed, a follow-up note should specify who is covering what, and it should thank everyone who is stepping up in a time of need.
How to write the announcement
Once the employee has given permission to share the news and has left, gather immediate team members in the office to tell them what happened.
Follow that up with an email to all affected employees (include remote workers and, if necessary, partners)—either from the employee’s manager or from HR, depending on company’s policy. Here’s an example for a fictional employee, Michelle:
Subject line: Sad news on our team
With deep sadness, I need to share the news that Michelle’s husband has passed away. Our thoughts and prayers are with her during this terrible time.
I know many of you will want to offer support and well wishes; I’ll share more details on the family’s preferences as soon as I have them.
Michelle will be out of the office for several days on bereavement leave.
Starting immediately, please send any work-related questions for them to [direct supervisor] until further notice. I’ll be reaching out to some of you to adjust our workflows while she is out, and will share that plan with you in the next 24 hours.
Teaching employees how to talk to their bereaved colleagues
One of the biggest pain points for employees returning to the office after a death in the family is the isolation they feel, and the energy they must expend in managing social interactions with colleagues who feel uncomfortable around them.3 min read
A guide to bereavement support in the workplace
Smart, thoughtful policies and practices can offer meaningful support for employees in the aftermath of loss—to make the transition back to work much smoother than it is now.4 min read
Supporting an employee as they cope with a traumatic loss
In the aftermath of loss, an employee returns to the office with an emotional burden that can be hard to carry. But when their loved one dies unexpectedly, or through violence or suicide, that burden is even heavier.4 min read