If you are a leader in the workplace, you may have the unfortunate task of announcing the death of an employee. The death announcement can be completed in a variety of ways, and your method of communication may be determined by the size of your staff and how close your employees are with each other.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Step 1: Seek Permission from the Family to Announce the Death
- Step 2: Ask Your Employees to Attend an Impromptu Meeting
- Step 3: Discuss How to Help the Family
- Step 4: Allow Employees Time to Grieve
- Step 5: Share the News with Those Not in the Office
- Step 6: Share the News with Management and Owners
- Step 7: Discuss Work Responsibilities
- Step 8: Offer Grief Counseling
- Step 9: Wait to Clear Away the Deceased Employee’s Belongings
- Employee Death Announcement Sample Email or Letter
Although all workplaces and situations are different, here are some general guidelines on how to spread the news. This mission should be handled delicately, as you may not be aware of the depth of some of the relationships of your employees.
Step 1: Seek Permission from the Family to Announce the Death
Of course, you are going to have to announce the death at some point, but you may want to receive permission from the family before sharing the news. You could've been one of the first people the employee’s family thought to inform, as the family members may have immediate questions regarding insurance or monetary matters.
When speaking with them, ask the family if all the close family and friends have been informed of the death. If they haven’t, keep the news to yourself until you are permitted to share. You do not want one of your employees to immediately post sympathy messages on the deceased’s social media pages until every aunt, uncle, and cousin have been told of the death.
Be considerate of the amount of information you're given. If you are privy to details regarding the death, the family may ask that you keep those to yourself.
Share your wishes, just in case.
Send your end-of-life preferences—including your funeral, legal, medical, and legacy choices—with your loved ones. Create a free Cake profile to get started.
Step 2: Ask Your Employees to Attend an Impromptu Meeting
Announcing a death is best done in person. If your office is small enough to house all the employees in one room, ask everyone to attend an impromptu meeting. Include every member of the staff, from the custodians to the president.
If the employee who passed away was part of a small team who worked closely together, you might want to consider telling them first before making the announcement company-wide.
No matter the kind of announcement, it may be best to be direct but sympathetic in tone. Share memories of the deceased and listen as the others process the news. Allow a place for your employees to share stories as well.
It's essential to show compassion to your employees during this time. Even if a worker was not necessarily close to the deceased, the death might trigger an emotional response.
Avoid talking about work responsibilities unless it is completely necessary. Of course, if you work in healthcare, education, or senior care, or customer service, you may not have the ability to ignore work for a while.
Step 3: Discuss How to Help the Family
As a staff, discuss how you will support the family during this difficult time. You may consider providing a meal or sending flowers or other sympathy gifts. You may want to send a group sympathy message or card.
Some offices may have policies determining what type of support to offer for such an event. Even if you or the staff feel a lot of grief over the loss, consider reviewing company policy to remain consistent.
Step 4: Allow Employees Time to Grieve
Depending upon your type of business, you may consider sending your employees home for the rest of the day, with paid time off. Your employees may choose to remain together to grieve and process the news. Provide the staff with a private place and the time to do so.
Unfortunately, many workplaces are forced to continue operating, even during emergencies. If this describes your workplace, consider bringing in substitutes or asking employees from a later shift to provide coverage for those who are grieving.
Step 5: Share the News with Those Not in the Office
Make sure you share the news of the death with those who aren’t present that day. The best way to share the news is with a phone call. If you cannot reach the absent employee over the phone, send an email asking them to call the office.
Step 6: Share the News with Management and Owners
Make sure to share the news with the owners and off-site management team, as well. Discuss the work expectations for the immediate future. Ask that non-essential work be given an extended deadline.
Discuss plans on how to cover the workplace during the funeral.
Step 7: Discuss Work Responsibilities
When the time is appropriate, discuss work responsibilities with the staff. This will be a very delicate process, even if you may work in an industry where the job must continue. If you can postpone deadlines, do so.
Your employees will notice and appreciate leaders taking on additional tasks that were left undone while others were grieving. As the leader of the workplace, it is important to show empathy, but at the same time, show that you will lend a hand so the business can remain productive as usual. This balance can be challenging to achieve and may differ between industries.
Step 8: Offer Grief Counseling
In some situations, it may be appropriate to bring in grief counselors to your workplace. This would be necessary if the person passed away at the office.
If your company offers counseling services, direct your employees on how to receive that assistance.
Step 9: Wait to Clear Away the Deceased Employee’s Belongings
Depending upon the situation, you may wait several days before clearing away the employee’s belongings. Consider sending out a simple email when this action will take place, so others aren’t uncomfortable with the uncompleted task.
You may consider waiting until the office is closed to gather up the deceased employee’s items. The act may be distracting otherwise. The employees’ personal items should be given to the family of the deceased.
If possible, you may consider rearranging the office, so the succeeding employee isn’t forced to sit in the same spot as the person who died.
Employee Death Announcement Sample Email or Letter
Your work environment may make it impossible to meet with all your employees at once. If this is the case, you may need to inform your staff about the death of an employee through an email. Here are some samples of such emails to get you started.
Subject line ideas
- It is with great sadness...
- Urgent news involving a member of our work family. Please read.
- Jane Smith
- Sad News
- With Sympathy
For a small, close-knit staff or department
“It is with great personal sadness that I announce the death of Jane Smith. Our beloved friend and coworker passed away last night as the result of a car accident.
Jane has been a part of our staff since 1988. Her dedication to the company and knowledge of the industry is one of the reasons for our company’s success. On a personal level, we all remember Jane’s infectious laugh, her love for the K.C. Chiefs, and the fantastic cinnamon rolls she would bring to staff meetings. Our office will never be the same now that Jane is gone.
We will provide details of the funeral services as soon as they are available.”
For a larger staff or department
“We regret to inform you of the passing of Joe Smith. He died last night after a long battle with brain cancer.
Joe was a member of our sales staff, working out of Chicago. He leaves behind a wife (Cynthia) and twin eight-year-old daughters, Chloe and Sophie. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family during this time.
We will share funeral arrangements with you as soon as they are available.”
Addressing Death at the Workplace
Sharing bad news takes skill and tact. If you are the leader of an organization, consider the benefit of learning more about how to address these kinds of situations. If you are concerned about using the right tone, practice giving the announcement with someone who works closely with you. Ask someone else to look at an email before it is sent.
As a leader, sharing the news of a team member is important. If you set the standard for compassion and empathy, others will follow course.