How the Death of a Coworker Can Affect the Team and How To Cope With It
The death of a coworker is an event that no one wants to face, but it does happen. The people we work with form a fundamental part of our lives. We spend our days with them and build important ties that often become lasting personal bonds.
In the following guide, we’ll share the impact that the loss of a coworker has on the work team, the stages of grief, some recommendations that will allow you to facilitate the development of the mourning experience, and a hopeful perspective about death.
The Aftermath of Losing Someone You Were Close To at Work and the Stages of Grief
The death of a team member is difficult to accept. The impact can be so strong that it directly affects the health of the team, triggering deep sadness, guilt, anger, fear, powerlessness, and/or poor performance. These emotions, when prolonged over a long period, can trigger depression, chronic fatigue, anxiety, and even nervous breakdowns, altered eating habits, sleep disorders, and/or suicide.
To keep these consequences from becoming exacerbated and triggering irreversible consequences, keep in mind that your team has begun to walk an important path, in which they’ll have to go through the following stages of grief:
- Denial: A defense mechanism for facing the pain generated by the loss.
- Confusion: Negative emotions about what wasn’t done, producing constant questions and distorting what’s happening.
- Anger: Feelings of rage about the passing and loss of the loved one.
- Pain and Guilt: Feelings of guilt and suffering about things that were left undone with the person while they were alive.
- Sadness: Deep sadness for the loss suffered. If not dealt with, this could turn into depression.
- Acceptance: Recognition that the person is gone and has left a void.
- Reconstruction: Taking actions that allow life to continue.
These stages of grief, which the deceased person’s coworkers must go through, are more challenging when you also have to continue fulfilling a host of work responsibilities. But this doesn’t mean they should be neglected or interrupted. It’s vitally important to prioritize your efforts to provide the team with an appropriate work environment so that this process can continue in the healthiest possible manner.
How Can I Help My Team Cope With the Death of a Team Member?
- Support spaces: It’s essential to support the team through group counseling that promotes the healthy evolution of the grieving experience. Ideally, this space should be facilitated by a professional who’s an expert in grief.
- Group coaching for the emotional reactions to a significant loss: Emotional guidance will allow the team to have a healthy relationship with their emotions and those of their coworkers in the face of loss. This can be done individually or in groups and with the help of an expert in emotional management.
- Expressive art activities for emotional regulation: Sometimes words aren’t enough to express the pain that occurs as a result of the passing of someone close to you. Art therapy is a very effective mechanism for regulating emotions and channeling the experience of suffering by providing well-being.
- Individual or group consulting spaces: The people closest to the coworker who passed away are often the most affected. It’s important to accompany them through this process with individual or group psychological consulting that allows this important experience to be handled in a more personalized manner.
A Hopeful Look at Death
There can be no doubt that the experience of dealing with the death of a colleague offers you a new way of getting to know your work team. If this is done through group processes, in a responsible and committed way, it will definitely represent an opportunity to grow as individuals—and even more so as a team.
From the moment that each team member finds comfort in others to the moment that the sad reality is accepted as a whole and life goes on, trust, synergy, a sense of union, and the strength of teamwork, in particular, will all grow.
Experiencing death is something that inevitably forces us to confront our fears. But at the same time, it provides an opportunity for us to learn about new dimensions and invites us to overcome our “fear of death” and to discover many ways to reconnect with life.
How Can MVT Help You?
At MVT, we have a network of psychologists who are experts in the mourning process as well as other scenarios that may be affecting your work team. We use a multidisciplinary approach with containment techniques as well as emotional regulation and management that will promote your team’s well-being and allow them to move through the mourning experience in a healthy manner.
If your team is dealing with the death of a coworker, our network of psychologists can help you through this journey.