Like every aspect of life, the workplace is not isolated from tragedy. When a crisis strikes the personal life of an employee, the emotional well-being and the productivity of other employees will be touched. Eventually the workplace will have to deal with the death of one of its team. Few deaths present more challenges than suicide.
Suicide in the workplace is not common. Statistics from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries show that less than 1% of all suicides actually happen at the workplace. In 2009 there were 36,909 deaths by suicide. Only 263 of them occurred at a workplace. But the Census estimates that almost 80% of suicides affect workplace and business environments.
The absence of a friend and co-worker is an immediate loss to the others on the team. Memories – both good and bad – will be triggered at almost every step in the process of doing business. Workloads will need to be adjusted. A new employee may need to be hired. Bringing a new personality into the group can be challenging. Change and adaptation will be necessary throughout the business.
But the shock of the nature of suicide can be an incredible disruption to the emotional health of the individual and the workplace health of the team. What should the co-workers be prepared for in the case of such a tragic event? Here are some general guidelines that may prove helpful.
EXPECT EXTREME AND INTENSE EMOTIONS. With suicide everything about the grieving process is intensified exponentially. Sometimes suicide does not carry the total surprise factor. Often one can see the personal struggle and misery in an individual. In other cases drug or alcohol abuse, or a physical issue like a bipolar disorder, can understandably end in tragedy. According to Russell Friedman of the Grief Recovery Institute those left behind feel guilty because they are convinced they should have done more to prevent the death. Emotions rage when the dimension of unresolved guilt and anger flare.
BE WILLING TO PARTICIPATE IN THE MOURNING PROCESS. While visitations, wakes and funerals are a comfort to the family, the mourning rituals can also bring strength and security to the co-workers. Gathering with others who loved or appreciated the deceased can provide a healthy atmosphere to allow grieving to take place. If the worker lived far away, plan a memorial service at the workplace.
REACH OUT TO THE FAMILY. The stigma found in religious, social or cultural traditions against suicide often makes family and friends feel isolated. They are hesitant to talk about the event because of embarrassment or the fear of saying the wrong thing. The family members are hurting and notes and cards from co-workers can bring a great deal of comfort.
AVOID SPECULATIONS AND GOSSIP. There is an underlying curiosity in most of us to want to know the details and circumstances around big events. Suicide is no exception to that. Fight the urges to ask detailed questions or to promote speculations. Such talk not only can hurt family members, it actually deters the progress of healthy grieving.
GRACIOUSLY ALLOW OTHER WORKERS TO GRIEVE. It is important to remember that everyone processes grief differently. Every circumstance is unique; every individual’s process of it is unique. Do not be judgmental in the way others struggle through these difficult times. Be supportive and encouraging as others work through the stages of grief.
With a caring spirit and respect for the deceased, your attitude and concern will help your workplace weather the difficult time.