How to Send a Condolence Email to Your Boss: 5 Things to Consider

Updated

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How many hours per week do you spend interacting with your co-workers? Some of you may spend more time with the people you work with than your own families. In fact, your co-workers may feel like your second family. 

Jump ahead to these sections:

  1. Your Relationship With Your Boss
  2. Appropriate Subject Lines
  3. Tips for Writing the Email
  4. Avoid Using These Phrases
  5. What to Do After You Press Send

As close as you are to your co-workers, how close are you to your boss? Many times bosses may try to put a distance between themselves and their subordinates. It’s too hard to supervise workers when you have close relationships with them. It’s hard to evaluate your employees when they are your friends. 

So what happens when your boss has a family crisis and loses a family member? Do you send flowers? Do you go to the funeral? Do you send a card? Do you buy a sympathy gift?

At a minimum, you should send a condolence email to your boss. Here are some things to consider when crafting this message.

Post-planning tip: If you are the executor for a deceased loved one, you will be receiving many sympathy and support messages; handling them all plus the details of the loved one's unfinished business can be overwhelming. We have a post-loss checklist that will help you ensure that your loved one's family, estate, and other affairs are taken care of.

1. Your Relationship With Your Boss

There are several things to consider when determining what type of relationship you have with your boss. Depending on how you answer these questions will determine how you should offer condolences.

  • How long have you known your boss?
  • How many people work under your supervisor?
  • How closely do you work together?
  • How well do you know the members of his or her family?
  • Have you ever socialized with your boss?
  • Would you consider your boss a friend?

Consider your answers to these questions. 

If your boss supervises only five employees, and you enjoy lunch together on occasion, you should go to the funeral. 

If you have known your boss for over a year, and have interacted once a month, you should at least take the time to send a card.

However, if you have worked with your boss for less than a year, and you hardly ever interact on a personal level, sending a condolence email would be an appropriate response.

Here are some tips on how to write an appropriate email for your boss in mourning.

2. Appropriate Subject Lines

Some people cannot ignore work, even during a family tragedy. Your boss may be this type of person. If you are sending an email of condolence, make sure you indicate it as such in the subject line. Otherwise, your boss may think the message is work-related and feel pressure to respond.

Do not mix your message of condolence into a work-related email. 

Here are some subject lines that will help your boss distinguish between a work email and a message involving the death of a loved one.

  •   My Condolences
  •   I’m So Sorry
  •   With Sympathy
  •   Thinking of You and Your Family
  •   My Sincerest Sympathy

3. Tips for Writing the Email

If you decide to write an email of condolence, that must mean that you aren’t particularly close to your boss. If you were close, you would express your sympathy in a more personal way.

Since you may not know this person well, express your sorrow sincerely but do it in as brief a message as possible. Avoid empty offers to “help in any way.” Avoid discussions of God or the afterlife unless your boss has made her beliefs clear. Don’t link the sorrow your boss feels to something that has happened to you.

Here are some samples of how to offer condolences to your boss.

If you’ve never met the person who passed away, consider writing a generic (but heartfelt) message of condolence.

“Please accept my sympathies on the loss of your mother. Know that I am thinking of you and the rest of your family during this difficult time.”

“I am so sorry to learn about the loss of your son. My deepest sympathies are with you and your family. Please know that I am praying for your peace and comfort during this difficult time.”

If you had met the person who had passed away, your message should be a bit more personal.

“I am so sorry to hear about Margaret’s death. She was always so kind and welcoming to me. I always looked forward to seeing her at our yearly holiday party. Please accept my sincerest sympathy.”

“I was shocked to hear about Mitchell’s death. Even though I only saw him once or twice a year, he livened up the office with his contagious and hearty laugh. Please know that I am thinking of you and your family during this difficult time.”

It may be appropriate to let your boss know that you are taking care of specific responsibilities while he or she is gone. Remember, it is not up to you to announce a death. Leave that up to your boss. 

“I am deeply saddened to hear about your brother’s death. Losing a sibling is incredibly difficult, especially when your sibling was as young as Mike. Please know that I am thinking and praying for you and your extended family. Also, I have told our clients you will be gone for the next week for a family emergency and asked them to direct any inquiries to me.”

“Please accept my condolences for the loss of your father. Losing a parent is so incredibly difficult, and I know how close you were to him. I also wanted to reach out and let you know that I will run the daily reports and lock up each night until you are ready to return.” 

Perhaps your boss lost a loved one after an extended illness.

“I was saddened to hear that your daughter lost her battle with cancer. My heart goes out to you as you prepare to say your final goodbyes. I hope you receive solace knowing that she is free from pain.”

“Please allow me to extend my heartfelt sympathy on the loss of your husband. I hope you feel some peace knowing he is no longer in pain. Please know that I am thinking about you on this sad occasion.”

If you and your boss are both people of faith, it is appropriate to use messages of hope in your email.

“Please know that my heart goes out to you on the passing of your mother.  Even though you will miss her warmth and tenderness, we know that she is no longer in pain. It must give you comfort knowing that she has joined your dad in Heaven.”

“May our Lord bless and comfort you during this time of grief. I am so sorry for your loss.”

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4. Avoid Using These Phrases

No matter how close you are to your boss, do not use these phrases in a condolence email. 

“I know how you feel.”

It’s not about you. Don’t bring up your past grief and compare it with your boss’s pain. 

“Don’t worry about work.”

Consider these two scenarios. One, that work is the last thing on your boss’s mind. Assuming that they would be concerned about their job is offensive.

The second scenario is that your boss is concerned about work. Saying not to worry will not eliminate those feelings. 

“There’s a reason for everything.” or ”It’s for the best.” or ”It was God’s plan.”

These phrases are offensive. No one wants to hear these words after losing someone.

“You’re still young.”

If your boss lost a spouse, this is the wrong sentiment to offer. 

“At least you still have _____ .”

People are not belongings. You cannot replace one child with another. You can’t replace one grandparent with another grandparent. 

“If you need to talk, I am here for you.”

If you are sending an email message of condolence, that means you are not particularly close to this person. Your boss does not want to seek counsel from someone they don’t know well after the loss of a loved one. 

5. What to Do After You Press Send

Once you have sent the email, you may want to reach out to your peers. You may decide to send a plant, provide a meal for the family, or make a group donation to the charity of choice. These are all appropriate group gifts to commemorate the passing of your boss’s loved one.

You may also ask your peers if they plan to attend the funeral. Even if you aren’t particularly close to your boss, it may seem odd if you are the only person in your department not to attend. 

On the other hand, do not try to use a person’s death to bring attention to yourself. For example, don’t send a giant floral arrangement when others from your work choose only to send a card. 

Showing Your Boss You Care

It doesn’t matter how impressive your boss’s title is. It doesn’t matter how much he or she makes. Perhaps your boss is the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, or maybe he is the manager of a small grocery store. Grief is the great equalizer. Losing those we love is hard, no matter the situation.

So whatever message you send, make sure your email is sincere. This is the time to put aside any negative feelings you may have regarding your boss. It’s time to reach out to a fellow human and offer sympathy.

Post-planning tip: When it's your turn to go through a difficult time of loss and you have to handle your loved one's final affairs, we have a post-loss checklist that will help you ensure that your loved one's family, estate, and other affairs are taken care of.

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