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Supporting Employees Experiencing the Illness or Death of a Coworker

When an Employee is Ill

In our adult lives, we spend at least one-third of our weekday time at work.  Some of us spend more time with our work families than we do with our biological families.  So, for many of us, when a co-worker is ill the sense of loss can be significant.

Sometimes it is hard to know how to best support an employee who has a serious illness or how to help staff who are impacted by an ill coworker.  It is always best to listen to both the ill employee and his/her peers to hear what their needs are.  Some suggestions are as follows:

· Respect the ill person's privacy
Either the ill coworker or their close family members should determine how much and what medical information is shared.  With the coworker's permission, a manager should provide regular updates.

· Support of ill person
Explore with both the ill person and coworkers ways to support the ill employee.  Some workgroups can donate time, organize fund raisers, take up a collection, and send cards.

· Allow Staff Time for Private Discussion
Staff may need time to discuss what they can do.  Some staff may be experiencing personal losses and this makes their coworker's illness more difficult.  Additionally, coworkers may feel the impact of the added job responsibility and need to share this.  Discussion may be helpful to some employees.

When an Employee Dies

When a coworker dies, grief is a painful and normal experience.  How we grieve is very personal.  Some factors contributing to the manner and length of our grief include, but are not limited to: culture, relationship to the deceased, the manner in which he or she died, other recent personal losses, and our personality.   When a death is unexpected (from violence, suicide or an accident) and when a close relationship exists, grief can be particularly painful.

When an employee dies let employees know as soon as possible.  Ideally all employees wishing to attend a funeral will be able to do so. Some things that workgroups do to help in the grieving process are:

· Create a memorial board or memory book
Some workgroups have created memory boards with photographs, stories and comments in memory of their coworker.   Other workgroups have created memory books in similar fashion and have given the family of the coworker the book.

· Memorial Service
Most hospitals have a chaplaincy staff that can be contacted to coordinate a memorial service for the employee that includes both staff and family members in the planning.

· Scholarships/Funds
Some workgroups decide to start an annual scholarship fund in memory of the employee, or to donate funds to assist the family in either their current or future needs.  A hospital credit union is often involved in planning such a fund.

When a coworker is ill or dies, the EAP is available to meet with staff to discuss their thoughts and concerns, either individually or as a group.  Managers should contact the EAP to consult with an EAP counselor about the needs of their staff.

For more information, read the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization article, When a Co-worker Suffers a Loss.

© 2005 Partners HealthCare System, Inc. All rights reserved.

For more information or to discuss employee or workplace concerns please contact Partners Employee Assistance Program at 1-866-724-4EAP.

In case of emergency, please call 911 or your local hospital emergency service.

This content was last modified on: 02/11/2016

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In case of emergency, please call 911 or your local hospital emergency service.

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