First off, sorry for your loss. The unthinkable has happed and an employee has committed suicide. Consequently, there will now be ramifications rippling through your whole organization. That is to say, your employees are your second family and it has been traumatized. Above all, if you already have not done so please find and share the Suicide Prevention Hotline in your area with all your staff. Click here for mental health support if you’re in Alberta, Canada.
What should you do if your employee has committed suicide? First, you need to check to see how it is affecting you as the owner or manager, your other employees, and your customers or community. Second, you need to examine your organization to see if it could be a contributing factor. Finally, you need to make a plan to help your organization through this tragedy and any future tragedies.
How is Employee Suicide Affecting You?
As the owner or manager of an organization, your main goal is to keep that organization running but you can’t do your job if you have experienced trauma from suicide like the other employees. Therefore, you need to get help for yourself as soon as you can. For example, you can have a conversation with a spouse or friend to get your emotions out, you can contact a local public social service helpline, and it is okay to have a good cry alone. Consider purchasing some books on mental health like these at Amazon. Above all, deal with your emotions first so you can better help your employees.
In high-stress situations, many people rely on “knee-jerk” reactions to keep things going but death and suicide are always different. First, you must clear your mind and start thinking of real ideas and asking for help and input. Second, remember that slowing down and even stopping is not a bad thing in these situations and may even be the most important thing you do.
Do you need time off for bereavement? Similarly, what you are feeling your employees are also feeling the same or worse. Subsequently, finding a way for you and your organization to show maximum empathy and compassion during this time is the key to weathering any slowdown or stoppage of operations. In other words, a five-minute memorial and getting everyone back to work is not the right thing and defiantly not anywhere near what you need to do.
How is Employee Suicide Affecting Your Other Employees?
Now that you have taken some time to look after yourself now you must turn to your employees. So, as mentioned above assume how you feel your employees may feel worse. As a result, you need to find resources for them to also take care of themselves. In addition, you need to find ways that you and the organization can support the employees. For instance, here is a list of ideas to get you started.
Employee Assistance Program – If you have one remind everyone of the contact info and if you don’t have one now is the time to get one.
Bereavement Leave – Yes, this is normally for when close family members die but your employees are your family and suicide is a very special situation. Give everyone the option to take bereavement leave. If you can manage to make this leave with pay that will go a long way in helping with stress levels.
Be Available – Make yourself extremely available for all employees for the next few weeks so they can come to you to talk. And, expect the unexpected like someone informing you that they want to change careers or leave the organization because this is a life-changing event that makes people think and reassess their lives.
Team Meeting – It may be useful to have a team meeting with all the staff to allow them to vent. similarly, this may be a great place and time to ask everyone as a group what they need and what you should do to support them.
How is Employee Suicide Affecting Your Organization?
Chances are that you are a small business owner so maybe a suicide like that will affect everyone. However, if you do have people working in teams or different locations maybe not everyone has been affected the same way. Most importantly, you don’t want to look insensitive to the situation but maybe some people don’t need time off so different parts of the business could keep operating. For instants, maybe just the direct team that is affected could take a few days off.
Would it benefit if the whole organization shut down? To clarify, if some employees will feel snubbed by having to work is it really worth it to keep some departments working. In other words, if you shut down the whole organization for about a week what are the pros and cons? So, imagine if you do a full shut down and everyone comes back less stressed and ready to work? Subsequently, could this be an opportunity to make changes you may be thinking about with the business.
Depending on the nature of the organization will dictate what level of a slowdown or shutdown you can weather. Certainly, remember that whoever path you take in these delicate times you need to be concerned about your employees first because a team of happy employees will be able to get things back on track faster.
What was the role of the employee who committed suicide? That is to say, what work did this person do and who can cover it? So, you may have to start looking for a new employee but until then has another employee been cross-trained already. Certainly, you can agree that anything can happen so cross-training is very important for every position in your organization.
How is Employee Suicide Affecting Your Customers, Clients, and Community?
In this situation, no matter what you decide your customers and community will understand. Moreover, your customers and community may even be able to or want to help and support the organization. If given an opportunity to share your pain customers and clients may even respect you for taking extreme measures like shutting down for a time. However, you will need to share your organizational pain with customers, clients, the public, and social media. In short, this is a sad opportunity to bring people together and strengthen your brand.
If people want to help and support certainly give them the opportunity. First, discuss all possibilities with your employees. Second, talk with the family of the deceased to see what support they would like. Finally, do this as a team with your employees to reap the benefits of this bonding opportunity.
Could Your Organization Be a Contributing Factor to Suicide?
This is something no owner or employer wants to think about. Although, in this situation, you need to examine your organization to reduce the chances that it is contributing to suicide. Your first impulse may be to deny this but you need to get past that feeling and work the situation. Consider having a staff meeting to get the opinions of your staff. Try to ensure that this meeting is a safe place for them to share.
What is your organization’s culture or environment like?
Ask your employees to talk about organizational culture and encourage them to be open and honest. Listen and take notes. Do not get upset at the negative comments you may hear. Ask them what they want to see changed.
Is there bullying?
Inform employees that they can come to confidentially to share if they are being bullied. You have to take the comments seriously and start working on these situations. You will need to learn more about handling bullies in the workplace.
Is the work high-stress?
Are your employees stressed out? If so you need to find the real cause of the stress. It could be multiple reasons from your management style, low pay, lack of tools, lack of training, to high workloads. When you find the root cause you may need to get more help or advice.
What can be done to improve conditions?
The best thing you can do to continue to improve conditions within your organization is to keep connecting. Make meetings like this happen at least quarterly so your employees will see it’s becoming a common event. This builds trust.
What are the demographics of your employees and how can the organization support marginalized communities?
The reality is that systemic racism is built into most western organizations. It is very hard to believe because this makes people with privilege and power feel attacked. Society is changing and every organization needs to be mindful and get proactive in initiating changes. As with many of these changes listed here, you are not alone. So, get your employees involved in helping you make changes.
Do you pay enough for a person to live without needing a second job?
In an organization with no issues then pay may not be an issue. Chances are that your organization may not be perfect so wages and salaries may help. Naturally, you need to be paying the minimum wage but you should go one step further. Research the cost of living and poverty line in your area to find out if you compare. If your employees are paid properly they will not need to work a second job or be able to pay for child care. These sorts of things will take a lot of stress off your employees.
Plan for the future
All this self-examination should help you create some goals for changes. By all means, you don’t need to make all the changes identified right away. They may be overwhelming! So, make a plan for each issue. Moreover, take small steps with each change that may fundamentally change your organization. In addition, you may want to assign one to two employees to be in charge of the changes.
As part of your ongoing plan and changes make sure you remember the reason for all this. Someone that was a part of your work family has committed suicide and now you need to prevent it from happening again. Sadly, this should be a good motivator to keep the changes on track if you remember.
If you need help with the organizational change you should seek more help from an HR professional. In addition, it may be helpful for you to check out our other blog post called What is the Role of Human Resources to get a high-level understanding of human resources.