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Chamber Voice: Respecting The Unexpected Loss

By Ian Ferguson

A famous poet once penned these words: ‘Death is an appointment that we all must keep’. It is the inevitable: It is the fate of us all. Sometimes, people die prematurely and unexpectedly, catching us off-guard. Separation as a result of death is heart wrenching and traumatising for even the well-adjusted and balanced among us. When an employee dies, particularly a team member who was beloved, it leaves a void in that department and company.

When this happens in the life of a company, the organisation as a whole has a responsibility to ensure that closure is brought to a number of areas. Our discussion today provides a brief checklist for the company suffering loss in this way.

First, organisations ought to ensure that the family of the deceased feels the company’s love and support. Along with guaranteeing that the salary and benefits entitled to the employee upon their departure are received by the family, it always helps to provide the personal touch. Cards, personal visits, flowers and a special presentation at the funeral service expresses to the relatives the value of their loved one to the company. Somehow, the pain is lessened when people affirm a life well lived.

It augers well when a company ensures grief counselling is provided for remaining team members. In many cases, we spend more time at work with co-workers than we do with our own biological families. The relationships we form often run deep, and separation by death may leave many employees overwhelmed and emotionally distraught. Psychologists speak often to the grieving stages, and how in some instances people need support in their handling of, and overcoming, grief. Employees must have an opportunity to mourn and get the healing they need to move on.

There are some housekeeping matters addressing the sensitivity of a fallen employee that a company must address. Clearing the deceased’s desk, turning personal particulars over to relatives and re-recording the person’s voicemail greeting or forwarding their phone calls are just a few. Nothing is more surreal or tragically ironic than hearing a deceased employee say in a voicemail greeting that he or she is unable to take the call. You want to quickly revert to a new voicemail message that simply directs the caller to another worker able to assist with the duties and assignments of the deceased.

Finally, the company must determine, as best as possible, the expired employee’s outstanding assignments and identify a suitable replacement for those tasks. You will need to discover as much information as you can about any future appointments or commitments. For example, the deceased may have been the principal on a major assignment with an important client. That client should be notified, the situation explained and another competent person assigned to the project.

These situations are never easy to manage, but the watchword in life and in death is RESPECT!

NB: Ian R. Ferguson was educated locally, regionally and internationally, having earned a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Miami. During the course of his nearly 20 years in education, talent management and human resources, he has served both the public and private sector in senior management roles. He currently serves as manager of the Chamber Institute, and as a local consultant in the field, having assisted hundreds of local and regional businesses in improving business and service excellence through their human capital.

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