Suicide does not discriminate. It can impact any organization, at any time. The unexpected death of an employee to suicide can leave coworkers feeling unstable for weeks, months, or longer. During this sensitive time, managers can play an important role in supporting employees by communicating empathy and helping them access the emotional support resources they need.
Below are some suggestions on how managers can best support employees in the event of a work-related suicide.
Communicate with compassion and empathy
Managers should work with human resources leadership to determine exactly how and what information can be shared with employees regarding the employee’s death. In these situations, rumors often abound, so employees should be asked to refrain from sharing information that has not been confirmed.
When delivering information to employees, it’s important that the manager’s tone and body language conveys a sense of respect and sensitivity for the situation. Managers should also take the opportunity to assure employees that a plan is in place, or is being developed, to address business continuity.
Support employees as they grieve
The most important thing a manager can do during this time is to help connect employees to the professional, emotional support resources that are available, often through the organization’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Managers should be able to share with employees what resources are available and how they can be accessed.
Some organizations, following a suicide, will bring counselors on-site to meet with employees one-on-one or in a group setting. Managers can support healthy grieving by encouraging employees to participate, emphasizing that it is normal to need professional support.
As much as possible, managers should be visible, walking around to check on employee wellbeing and offering additional support to employees who are struggling. It’s helpful to know that grieving does not look the same for everyone. While some employees may want to get back to work quickly to restore a sense of normalcy, others may openly struggle with their emotions and find it difficult to be at work. Managers should work closely with human resources to determine how special accommodations will be handled.
In addition to looking out for the wellbeing of their teams, managers need to make sure they are addressing their own emotional needs as well. It’s not unusual for a manager to feel a sense of guilt or responsibility when an employee dies by suicide. Managers should not hesitate to reach out to their EAP, which may offer specialized support for managers.
Help guide the transition to healing
Managers are responsible for guiding the team back into a regular routine. This will be part of the healing process and often employees find it comforting.
Suicide is always tragic. The way that a manager leads during and after the crisis can play a major role in the healing process for employees.
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