Hi everyone...

Yesterday one of my directs passed away suddenly. Needless to say today was very hard for everyone as we are a staff of 14. I put on a strong front (someone had to), but I know that the coming days will bring challenges for our team. Does anyone have any advice on how to handle this difficult time management-wise? I want to maintain as much focus as possible, while still being sensitive to the tragedy/peoples emotions.

I want to avoid seeming cold at all costs, however the reality is we are in a customer service center, and the calls will be coming in no matter what.

Thank you all for your advice!

jhack's picture

This is a very difficult time and your team will be struggling with their emotions. You also need to take care of yourself, while being there for others.

You should listen to the podcasts "Personal Crisis" parts 1 and 2 from June 18 and 25, 2007.

Read through the following thread with great attention:

The advice in the podcasts and on that thread are very insightful.

You are not alone here. My team had a client project manager die from a heart attack during a project, and the team from our firm was devastated (he was a great guy). We all attended the funeral, car service paid by the company. While the team's productivity suffered, they really needed to be at the funeral, and to share with the manager's family and friends the tragedy of his loss. The actions you take now will have a long term effect.

I don't know what kind of customer service you provide, and whether your team has a personal relationship with the customers or if they're a larger set of unknowns. I do know that if your customers are aware of why the team is smaller and service is less prompt, they are typically very understanding. Don't try to hide the events. Don't pretend it doesn't matter.

Are there other folks (receptionists, product development, etc) that could help carry the load for a short time while your team readjusts?


MTJunkie808's picture

Thank you for your response...

The employee who passed was on a team of 4 specialized care reps for one of our clients (we are a health insurance company). This person was well known at the client (who has been advised), and well liked in the company. Unfortuneatly due to the massive training and experience required to perform her duties, we are unable to have someone else fill in.

This team works very closely with our client, and each team member is on a first name basis with many who they deal with day to day, and the short term impact of her passing will be felt on all levels.

The hardest part of the next few weeks will be the reality of people calling the 3 other team members and asking to speak with her.

We are working it out so everyone on the team will be able to attend the wake tomorrow, but we will have to have the team return to the office as we cannot obtain permission to close for the afternoon from our other clients.

Basically we HAVE to be business as usual without being business as usual.

tcomeau's picture
Training Badge

First and foremost, I'm sorry for your loss.

I'll echo John's recommendations, particularly pointing to the explanation Mark gave in the thread last March.

The team will need time to deal with this, and different people will have different reactions. You'll have to deal with them individually. "Business as usual" will probably return in time, but not immediately.

Figure out how to stay focused on the work, without ignoring the reality of the loss. Health insurance is important work -- people depend on you to get the care they need. That may help people work through this, but they will need time.


terrih's picture

My condolences for your loss to you & your team.

I'm sure your team knows as well as you do that "the show must go on." Some of them, at least, may find comfort in soldiering on... depends on their temperament.

I think this is another time for Horstman's Law #2--"More communication is better." Listen. Talk. Reminisce. Whatever seems to help, in between calls.

WillDuke's picture
Training Badge

My condolences on your loss. I once lost a coworker during work hours. She was talking on the phone and just dropped. Other coworkers gave her CPR until the medics arrived but she never woke up.

That company held an informal wake. They also named one of the meeting rooms after her.

I'm not sure what you mean by a strong front. But I don't think it's weak to show compassion or sadness. I'm not suggesting you think that, but just thought it pertinent. :)

You know your team. You know what they need. It's your job not only as their boss but as a human being to give it to them. Stock up on tissues. Let people know it's okay to take a few minutes to gather themselves when they need it. Take care of your team right now.

If you think one of the hard things will be hearing clients ask for her, get a receptionist for a week or two. Have the receptionist field all calls before they get to your directs. The receptionist, who didn't know the deceased, will be able to professionally inform your clients of the loss of that team member, when appropriate, and deliver the call to another support person. This is a pretty minimal expense.

Short-term productivity is going to take a hit. Long-term people will remember your compassion and professionalism. Tonight you can sleep well.

US41's picture

As your team's manager, your job is to put the umbrella up over your team. This is not a normal time. You can't make a corny speech about how the work must go on. Someone will go postal, and at the very least, you will be seen as a horse's behind.

Why not get everyone together and gather suggestions via brainstorming MT style for how to best remember your friend. Shall everyone come to your home? Shall there be a day off for the team and scheduling by other teams to help out? Can all of you do something, go somewhere, be together as a group? Can a small picture of him be put up on his desk or on yours with a guest book people can write notes in to give to his family? Can you give regular talks to your team about the progress you are making in helping his family get their death benefits, the health and well being of any children or spouses or parents left behind?

There is a lot to do here. This is when really good managers come out of the closet and show through behavior, not just words, that they love their people.

[i]"You have to love your people." -Mark[/i]

All managers will say they love their people. Few really do. Even fewer SHOW it.

slymcmosa's picture

On that March thread, there is a link I'll repost here:

It is a government HR handbook. chapter 3 does discuss the death of a co-worker. It might contain a lot of things you were already doing, but I know it is sometimes helpful to see this type of thing in print, if the world is spinning. A number of the suggestions given in this forum are mentioned there.

I particularly liked this piece of advice:

[quote]Serve as a role model. Managers need to serve as role models for appropriate grieving. If you show that you are actively grieving, but still able to function effectively, other employees will realize that they can also be sad without losing their ability to perform their duties rationally.[/quote]

'Role Model' is an odd choice of words, but the idea of setting an example that it was ok to be effected, and still perform your duties, i think is a good one.

And this one...

[quote]Get back to the work routine in a way that shows respect for the deceased. Returning to the work routine can facilitate healing if the work group makes an effort to uphold values held by the deceased and strive toward goals that he/she particularly valued, for example, 'I want to show the customers I care, because Sam was such a caring person.'[/quote]

I really gravitate towards the idea of honoring the memory through the work.

I am very sorry to hear about your loss. Good luck to you and your team.