A Manager’s Guide to Suicide Postvention
April 28, 2015
There are few things more difficult for a workplace to endure than the suicide of a team member. Initially the workforce will likely be overwhelmed with feelings of shock, sadness, anger or guilt. People might have difficulty focusing and reduced productivity for a time. In the aftermath of a suicide, how can managers help their team work through what just happened? Of course there is no easy answer or plan that will make everything alright, however there are some things managers can do that may help their staff after such a tragic loss.
The first thing a manager can do is give honest, factual information. This not only lets employees know what happened, but also allows the truth to get out in front of rumors. This can be done by holding a meeting with all staff at the worksite as soon as possible. In some cases, the deceased’s family might not wish for everyone to know the death was a suicide, so it is important to obtain their permission before the meeting. During the meeting, the manager should express care and concern over what occurred, and its impact on the workplace. Acknowledge how difficult this is, and that it is understandable if they have difficulty returning to work or being as productive as usual for the next couple days. Allow employees time to grieve and provide a quiet place for them to do so. Be visible and check in with employees periodically. Ask how they are doing and listen to them, offering a compassionate response. As the workplace gradually goes back to normal, or a new normal without that colleague, keep in mind anniversary dates or other times when the grief over this loss may reemerge.
The suicide of an employee might have many impacts on the manager as well. Not only did they lose an employee, and someone they might have cared about, but they have the additional responsibility of keeping the workplace going. However, it does not help their employees for the manager to only care about others, but lose their own ability to do their job or lead their team in the process. In stressful situations like this it is important for managers to take care of themselves as well. This might include exercise, getting enough sleep, or doing other things they find helpful during difficult times. The important thing to remember is that everyone reacts and grieves in their own way, but as long as people allow themselves to experience and work through their emotions and reactions, in time most do recover.
A great free resource is A Manager’s Guide to Suicide Postvention in the Workplace: 10 Action Steps for Dealing with the Aftermath of Suicide. This guide is the collaborative partnership with the American Association of Suicidology (AAS) and the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention (Action Alliance), in partnership with R3 Continuum, and the Carson J Spencer Foundation.