Individuals who contemplate ending their lives become adept at hiding how they feel until it's too late. Some indications of distress might be there, but most people may not notice the signs of depression and suicidal ideation in their coworkers until hindsight makes things easier to see.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Tips for Coping After a Coworker Died by Suicide
- Tips for Helping Other Coworkers or Direct Reports Cope After a Coworker Commits Suicide
- Tips for Announcing or Acknowledging a Death After a Coworker Commits Suicide
A colleague's suicide can potentially disturb other employees and managers as they struggle to understand why their colleague chose to end their life. They may also have difficulty coping with the overall shocking and traumatizing effect of the manner of death. Some employees may struggle to figure out what they could've done to help their coworker or if they should've done more to recognize the signs.
Whenever a coworker dies by suicide, there are often many unanswered questions left behind. Management may want to fill in the narrative, but with a suicide, it is more important for them to prepare for their employee's wide range of grief reactions to follow.
Tips for Coping After a Coworker Died by Suicide
Having to admit to your employer that you need emotional grief support to help you get through this may be uncomfortable. However, it's a necessary step to help you accept this sudden and unexpected loss. Here are some tips below to help you cope with navigating such a sensitive topic at work.
1. Talk to your employer
Today’s corporate climate knows and understands the need for grief support following a significant loss affecting their employees. Many companies now make available grief-related counseling services to workers affected by a loss at the workplace. In addition to bereavement leave, many employers allow for personal time off.
If an employee or manager is struggling to cope with the loss of another employee, the standard bereavement leave may not be enough. Additional time allows for the bereaved to mourn, regroup, and return ready to work. When used appropriately, bereavement leave and personal time off can help with the processing of grief.
2. Take time to grieve
Whenever coworkers suffer the suicide death of another team member or employee, they may feel the initial shock of grief. It is typical for some to talk about it around the water cooler for a few days, then bury the event and keep moving forward with work as usual.
Unfortunately, feelings of sadness and disbelief may linger in the work environment for many months afterward, placing employee productivity at risk. Taking the time to allow grief to manifest and yourself to process your loss is beneficial to the healing process both in your work and home life.
3. Understand the grieving process
Many coworkers experience grief-related reactions of shock, anger, disbelief, and sadness following the death of another employee. This may be the first time many employees and managers may be experiencing the death of someone they know by suicide. Regardless of how close they were to a particular employee, suicide has a lasting impact on those it affects.
You may find it challenging to understand your feelings and emotions, especially when they seem to come out of nowhere. Consider reading a few articles online on how grieving over a suicide can affect friends.
4. Don’t beat yourself up
Finding reasons to blame yourself for not picking up on the signs of doing more for your coworker can be an exhaustive process with no final resolution. Depression tends to precede suicide, and many individuals struggling with suicidal ideations tend to keep these thoughts to themselves. Sometimes, it’s because they fear the stigmatization associated with mental health issues and suicide, so they’re afraid to talk about it openly.
Other times, they may feel that no one will understand what they’re going through. One darker reason for not seeking help is that a suicidal person may have given up on life and doesn’t want to be rescued.
5. Find closure in ritual
Death rituals help grieving individuals process their loss and deal with the events leading to a traumatic death. Attending a funeral or memorial service is a great way to honor a coworker's life. Offering to give a eulogy for a coworker shows a sign of respect to the family and gives a glimpse into how the deceased's life impacted yours.
Eulogies pay a final tribute to your coworker, provide a deeper meaning to their life than what their family and loved ones may have been aware of, and allows you to gain a sense of finality and closure.
Tips for Helping Other Coworkers or Direct Reports Cope After a Coworker Commits Suicide
Helping others cope after a suicide death can come as a challenge to many. One way to look at it is to treat it like any other death. When considering how to help others get through this challenging time, consider it as supporting friends and loved ones dealing with a tragic loss.
The manner of death shouldn’t be the focus, but rather how to support one another through this devastating time is what’s most important. The tips below apply to any death, whether sudden, tragic, or expected.
6. Purchase sympathy gifts
Employees often spend a great deal of time at the workplace alongside their coworkers. For many, the people they work with become an extension of their personal life. It’s not unusual for coworkers to socialize outside of work or to enjoy the company of each other’s families on outings or special occasions.
Whenever an employee dies, consider treating their death as the death of your employees’ loved ones. Treat it with the same respect you would if an employee came to you announcing the death of a close family member. Consider purchasing condolence gifts or coming up with sympathy gift basket ideas for the workplace.
7. Utilize available resources
Figuring out how to help others cope with loss might prove to be too big of a challenge even for the most adept managers or employees. Finding the right words to say to those impacted by the death of a coworker doesn’t always come easy. If you struggle with knowing what to say, here are some other ways you can help bereaved individuals at work cope with a suicide death:
- Show empathy and concern
- Acknowledge and validate their grief
- Connect them with company-sponsored grief support
- Show them how to request bereavement leave
- Permit them to grieve
8. Consider the impact of grief
Employees grieving the death of a coworker might struggle to get back on track in the weeks following a traumatic death such as suicide. This type of grief is not something you get over in a week or month, it’s difficult to ignore, and you can’t leave it behind when you get to work. Dealing with loss at the workplace comes with its own set of nuances.
As a person in charge of overseeing work productivity, it’s essential to understand how grief impacts employees, coworkers, and managers alike. Understand that grief can impact job performance, an employee’s mood, and how they interact with others in the workplace.
Tips for Announcing or Acknowledging a Death After a Coworker Commits Suicide
Suicide in the workplace can make it challenging to know how to handle a coworker’s death. Knowing that a coworker committed suicide can leave employees and management stunned and lost on how to react. Suicide is still a taboo subject that many people shy away from talking about to others. Our society considers suicide inappropriate to talk about or to ask the details of what happened and why.
Anyone in charge of making the official announcement can expect to field an onslaught of questions. Sometimes the best defense against not knowing how to respond is to have a few canned responses ready to read off when necessary. Continue reading below for other helpful tips on how to handle this situation.
9. Choose your words carefully
You may not have had any prior training in knowing how to announce an employee’s death, but this is an excellent time to practice how and what you’ll say when the time comes. You’ll need to resort to your company’s handbook on how to announce an employee’s death legally.
Even if there is no policy in place, you’ll want to choose your words carefully. Those under your direct supervision depend on appropriate guidance and leadership during this stressful time. Showing strong leadership means being aware of how a traumatic death affects employees and others at work.
10. Get guidance from the family
One of the safest ways to announce a suicide death is to ask the immediate family for permission to make the announcement. Ask them to guide you in how they would like the statement handled and what is and isn’t appropriate to announce.
You’ll not only save yourself the headache of trying to figure out the best way to say it, but you’ll also alleviate yourself from potential drawbacks. In any event, consider asking the family to formulate the announcement to say precisely how they would want it to read.
11. Prepare yourself for questions
You can expect an overall sense of shock and disbelief to permeate among your coworkers and other employees. When making such an impactful announcement, prepare a few answers to some of the most anticipated questions. There will be a lot of confusion, sadness, and denial initially. But after the shock begins wearing off, expect people to want answers as to why and how this happened.
Acknowledge their desire to learn more, but only share as much information as you're able to or feel comfortable sharing. No one is entitled to know every detail of their coworker's death but understand that grief and curiosity work together to help make sense of this loss.
Suicide’s Impact on Coworkers
Finding ways to cope after the suicide death of a coworker may involve having to open up to others about your feelings without ever knowing what happened.
You're likely to have to deal with the news of the death without having all the answers and may struggle with finding acceptance and closure. There are always free and available resources to turn to to help you cope. Reach out to others when struggling to make sense of your loss.