Acknowledging Loss in the Workplace

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Acknowledging loss in the workplace is difficult. When a colleague, co-worker or business associate loses a family member, do you find yourself wondering what to do? Are you afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing? Often the result of uncertainty is that you end up doing and saying nothing and later regretting it. A business owner who attended one of my presentations confessed that when faced with the loss of an employee or an employees’ family member, he found himself hiding behind “busyness”, ignoring the death because he didn’t know what to do. Don’t let that be you.

Let these tips on the etiquette of sympathy be your guide to acknowledging loss:

When someone you work with suffers a loss, the kindest thing you can do is to acknowledge the passing. It is just as important to show your sorrow in a business relationship as it is in a personal one. Don’t withhold your support because you are uncomfortable.  It’s not about you.

Attend the funeral or visitation even when you did not know the person who died.  You are there for your colleague or friend—the survivor who is suffering. If you can’t make the funeral or memorial service, go by the funeral home and sign the register book. Another option is to leave an acknowledgement in the online guest book.

Acknowledge family members who are present. Introduce yourself and speak to as many as you can, not just the ones you already know.  Explain your relationship to the deceased. No one should have to guess who you are and what your connection may be.

When you see the family, talk about the person who has passed. Share your favorite memories with the family.  This is a time when people need to hear stories about the person they have lost.  Laughter and happy stories, as well as ones of praise, are healing.

Write a note of condolence in addition to attending the service.  People will keep those handwritten expressions of sympathy and treasure them for years.

Whatever you do, don’t send your sympathy via e-mail unless you are in Outer Mongolia and that is your only option.  Electronic mail lacks the personal touch that this painful time deserves. In today’s online world, there is usually a guest book on the funeral home website where you can also express your thoughts in the proper context.

Offer to help where you can in order to leave the family free to grieve.  The most mundane chores or errands can be a tremendous help. Whatever you do, try not to say, “If there is anything you need….” That’s not helpful at all since those grieving have no idea what to ask for. Suggest things that you are willing and able to do.

Once the funeral is over, stay in touch.  Reaching out as time goes by can be more meaningful than your initial response at the time of the death.

Forget what people say about a year of grief—grief lasts longer than a year. Mark the date of the death on your calendar. Call, visit or send a note on the anniversary of the loss.

Part of building relationships can be sharing the saddest of times.  If you know what is expected when acknowledging loss, you will be more confident and more likely to do what serves others best.

Lydia Ramsey is a Savannah-based business etiquette expert, keynote speaker, trainer and author. Contact her at 912-598-9812 or visit her website: LydiaRamsey.com. Learn how her presentations, workshops and resources can help you and your employees add the polish that builds profits.

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