Six ways to honor a deceased employee and co-worker

On January 4th 2015 I lost my sportscaster. If you are an American sports fan and you came of age in the 90's Sunday was a sad day for you as well. The sports world lost one of it's greatest innovators in broadcasting, Stuart Scott

The outpouring of grief from fans has been tremendous. They have taken to all forms of social media in expressing their appreciation for his work and support for his family. Because he was (I can't believe I am saying WAS about Stuart Scott) a public figure working for ESPN, we have been able to see how his co-workers are honoring him as well. 

Yesterday's news got me thinking about the best ways to honor a co-worker who has passed away.

We spend forty to sixty hours a week in close proximity working on a common goal with people who were once strangers. Most businesses are small so the familiarity can become significant. There are only ten of us at my company. We bowl, play basketball, eat and deliver value to our clients TOGETHER. Every last one of my co-workers means something to me. 

When someone dies the people they spend the most time with week to week are often overlooked, their co-workers. Honoring an employee is a way to pay respect and allow healing to happen in the workplace. 

Pause: Simply taking the time to acknowledge the loss is important. Allowing staff to have a little extra time at lunch or before the day starts makes a difference. Open up the office a little early to let staff tell stories, you may be surprised by the cheer it brings.

Get out of the way: The boss doesn't always have to be the leader. In these moments an employee led ceremony is appropriate. Sure, you want to set limits and make sure things stay professional. Once the boundaries are set (time of day, duration, food, music, employee remarks) let the people who worked closest with the deceased the lead the way. 

Permanent reminders: I am a proud graduate of St. Mary's College of California. A big part of the reason I attended was because my mother worked there when I was in high school. Unfortunately, she passed away halfway through my freshman year of college. One of the ways her co-workers in her department honored her was with an engraved brick. This red brick with her name and a short sentiment in gold writing was placed on a quiet patio with other bricks to honor members of the SMC family.

A plaque or picture collage on a wall would be fitting in a business setting. These type of gestures don't have to be reserved solely for founders. If your business owns the property and your have outdoor space plant a tree in the person's honor. 

Memorial in the cloud: For a staffer who was an integral part of the company regardless of the position, a page on the company site may be appropriate. One of my clients did this to honor their COO who passed away just over a year ago now. Their choice made particular sense because of  a foundation in his honor the page highlights.

Scholarship fund or charity: If an employee was passionate about their profession or an activity outside of work support young people in pursuing the same path. Jim Buescher was serious about and well known in the promotional products and advertising industry. So much so that a scholarship for academic achievement was formed in his name within the SAAC .

Have some fun: What was your employee or co-worker passionate about outside of the office? If they didn't talk about it openly the clues are still there. Look at pictures on their desk, where did they vacation? Maybe we can't all celebrate their life in the Bahama's but we can go bowling. Bring in some fishing rods (without hooks) and practice fly fishing while telling stories about the person over lunch. 

I am sure there are other great and work appropriate ways to bring healing when a close employee is gone. Do take caution in respecting their memory and tread lightly. 

Words of caution:

Make sure any lasting memorial that will be visible around the office is up lifting and doesn't poke fun in any way. 

If customers may come in contact with the memorial make sure is relevant to all. Inside jokes the deceased may have loved might offend people from outside your circle. 

Keep religious practices to a minimum. Hopefully, co-works of other religions or who are atheist could tolerate a brief ceremony if a particular faith was important to the deceased employee. Unfortunately, some can't. The companies purpose is to bring value to clients and increase revenue, not turn into a place of corporate sanctioned worship. Consult HR on this just in case.

Check with the family. If the company is compelled to do something at the funeral, memorial service or in the community make sure the family approves. You may have spent more hours in the day with the person but they are a grieving family member's wife, father, daughter, brother, or child. 

When do you think it is appropriate to celebrate deceased employee's life? What have been the best ways of honoring someone that you have experienced?

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