employee’s life, Kessler says. He offers these guidelines for dealing with an employee who has lost a loved one:
• Ask the employee, or a co-worker who is close to the worker,
how he or she would like you to communicate with staff that he
or she will be out of the office. If the bereaved individual doesn’t
want to share much, simply state, “Jane had a loss in her immediate family and will be out for the next week.”
• Be aware of when the funeral is taking place and whether
the employee is traveling to get there. Refrain from contacting
the employee during those times, and ask the person’s manager
to do the same.
• Avoid telling the employee you know what he or she is going
through. Nobody knows what it’s like to have a spouse, child
or parent die suddenly unless they have been through it themselves—and even then the experience is highly personal and individual. That said, if you haven’t yet experienced the death of a
close family member and want to get a better understanding of
what it feels like, ask trusted colleagues who have been through
it if they’re willing to share their story so you can better relate
to other employees.
• Send flowers and, if the funeral is local, request that one or
two representatives from the office attend. If possible, make a
donation in the loved one’s memory to a recommended charity.
At the very least, have everyone sign a card.
• Encourage the employee to make use of your employee assistance program.
If the employee learns about the death while at work, he
or she will often come to HR with the news—so remember to
expect the unexpected. Van Curen suggests keeping a binder of
resources on hand. “You can’t give advice,” she says, “but you
can provide resources for grief counselors, funeral homes, tax
attorneys and florists.”
Changing the Paradigm
Grant says writing Option B with Sandberg changed the way he
supports colleagues when they experience a death in the fam-
ily. Most people simply say, “I’m sorry for your loss” and ask if
there is anything they can do to help. But that puts the burden
on the person who is grieving to ask for assistance. “It is much
more helpful to just do something,” Grant says. “Bring over a
meal. Offer to watch the kids.”
Most people feel isolated after a family member dies, even
if they are from a large family, Mason says. Often, others want
to help but don’t know what to do, so they do nothing—which
makes the bereaved person feel even more alone, she says. Offer
to mow the lawn, pick up food at the grocery store, walk the dog
or plan an outing for their children.
“I couldn’t understand when friends didn’t ask me how I
was,” writes Sandberg in Option B. “I felt invisible, as if I was
standing in front of them but they couldn’t see me.”
Keep in mind that the first year is typically the toughest, as
individuals navigate all the milestones, anniversaries and birth-
days without their loved one for the first time, Mason says. Sand-
berg writes in Option B about her sad “Year of Firsts”: “My son’s
first birthday without his father. My first wedding anniversary
without a spouse. And a new unwelcomed anniversary: the first
anniversary of Dave’s death.”
The more flexible an employer can be during this most dif-
ficult time, the more loyalty it will get in return over the long
run. “If the employee has been with you a year or longer, and
they’re a good employee,” Van Curen says, “why would you
throw that away and not do everything in your power to sup-
port that person?”
Lisa Rabasca Roepe is a freelance writer based in Arlington, Va.
4 days is
leave allotted for
the death of a
spouse or child.
3 days is
the average time
off given for the
loss of a parent,
or foster child.
Sheryl Sandberg and her husband Dave Goldberg in 2011.
Source: The Society
for Human Resource
Management 2016 Paid Leave
in the Workplace Survey.