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Death in the workplace

Life at work can be disrupted by the death of an employee, often leaving teams and managers relatively helpless. The causes of death can be many: accidents at work, illness, road accidents, suicide, etc.
At such particularly difficult times for employees, the employer’s reaction is essential. Employees who feel supported and recognised by an employer who seems to take their well-being to heart are more committed and productive later on. Conversely, people who have received little or no support from their organisation following a death are more likely to feel stress, a loss of meaning at work, dissatisfaction and want to leave their job.

To help you navigate these troubled waters, the ASTF is providing a procedure to follow and a set of tools.


1. Dealing with the crisis

In the event of an unexpected death in the workplace, it is important to:

  • Implement immediate measures.
    Such as alerting specialized emergency services, removing witnesses and protecting the dignity of the deceased. You’ll find all the measures you need to take in the attached checklist.
  • Convening a crisis team
    The crisis team has a number of roles to play: gathering precise information on the situation and assessing it, coordinating the response, identifying the people involved, determining the roles of each of the players, managing communication and announcements, deciding whether or not to cease operations, etc.
    This team may include the director, the human resources manager, the designated worker, a staff representative, the occupational physician/nurse, a social worker or occupational psychologist, any person who seems essential to the situation (department manager, etc.) and possibly external help.


2. Announcing a death

Whether the death occurs inside or outside the company, it must be announced to the rest of the workforce. This not only helps to control the information disclosed, but also legitimizes the malaise and provides information on available resources. Announcing a death is an important moment, requiring a sensitive, humane and supportive attitude. It must be made as quickly as possible, once the information has been verified and evaluated. You’ll need to announce it to the family (if the death occurred at work), colleagues, all employees, suppliers or customers concerned and, in some cases, the media.
In concrete terms:

  • Focus on what happened. It’s a good idea to introduce some background information and recall the deceased’s role within the company. However, keep the description of the circumstances of the death brief (if it was suicide, don’t mention the means used). The emphasis is on the facts. If the cause is unknown, do not speculate.
  • Time can be taken to legitimize emotions. These are normal following the announcement of a death, and can be manifold.
  • Highlight the resources available internally and externally to deal with the situation. Also specify the means of paying tribute that will be organized if this is the case (attending the funeral, leaving words of condolence for the family, setting up a memorial book, flowers, candles, etc.).
  • Conclude withempathy.

For colleagues, a small-group approach is recommended. Other means can be used for remaining employees and third parties. For this purpose, an e-mail template is also available, containing the above tips.


3. Post-event support

Following the announcement of a death, workers may experience very strong emotions. They enter a period of mourning, which, although very difficult, is a normal response to loss. They may be affected psychologically, socially and in their productivity too. If the death is a suicide, this can lead to deep feelings of guilt among colleagues for not having been able to prevent the situation. Grief is made up of several stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance). Not everyone goes through all these phases, or in the same order. So it’s a good idea not to impose measures, but rather to offer workers the opportunity to be listened to and to get help, if they so wish, by clearly communicating the resources available.
So supporting means:

  • As soon as the announcement is made, put the emotions into words and legitimise them.
  • Clearly communicate resources:
    • Communicate verbally, by e-mail, via the organisation’s intranet or any other means of communication.
    • Identify the resource people within the company who can be a listening ear: managers, human resources, staff representatives, occupational physician, social workers, psychologists.
    • Offer psychological support to anyone who needs it, especially close colleagues/witnesses if the death occurred within the company. To do this, the following resources (see attached document: Useful addresses) are available to you and can be passed on to employees.
  • In the event of suicide:
    Providing information about the suicidal act can be beneficial in understanding its complexity. It can also help colleagues accept that they had little chance of preventing it. The Prevention Suicide Luxembourg website (prevention-suicide.lu) is a good place to start.