When Death Calls, CSR Takes Center Stage

How you handle the death of an employee will say a lot about your organization and how you care for your stakeholders.

By Anna Johansson

At the heart of CSR is the notion that corporations have an obligation to society and stakeholders that goes far beyond generating revenue. Therefore, CSR can include anything that seeks out social betterment. In the wake of the death of a stakeholder, how an organization responds can have a major impact on how the firm is viewed both internally and externally. Does your organization have a plan for how to deal with the tragic death of an employee?

How to handle death in the context of your CSR strategy

While the death of an employee can be a logistical challenge from a business perspective, the complexities of ensuring continuity and finding a replacement take a backseat to the emotional aspects related to consoling family members and helping coworkers grieve properly. In certain situations, there’s also the need to make a public statement and deal with the press.

How you handle the death of an employee will say a lot about your organization and how you care for your stakeholders. Let’s analyze a few suggestions and best practices.

1. Make contact with the family

One of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do in your life is make contact with a spouse, parent, or child after their loved one has passed away. It’s gut wrenching, but something that has to be done when you represent your organization.

While you probably shouldn’t reach out to family members in the immediate hours after the death, it’s a good idea to do it sooner rather than later. The time frame of 24 to 36 hours after the employee’s passing is usually ideal. This gives them some time to gather themselves, but isn’t so delayed that it seems like you don’t care.

When you make contact with the family, be sure to speak personally, as well as on behalf of the company. Be sure that they know the organization is there for them in their time of need.

2. Consider the announcement

The next step is to consider how you’ll announce the death. Every situation is unique and how you handle this aspect will be determined by the role of the employee and your brand’s standing in the industry.

If the individual is a key stakeholder – such as a manager or executive – and your brand is well-known in the marketplace, an official public statement is probably appropriate. Check out some of the statements Apple released in the wake of Steve Jobs’ passing to see what this looks like.

If the individual isn’t a public figure and your business is small and relatively unknown outside of the industry, an internal announcement will suffice. However, do make sure you follow the wishes of the family if they specify preferences.

3. Offer support for employees

Employees also need to be supported following a coworker’s death. If it happens in the middle of a workday, consider letting those close to the individual go home. If that’s not possible, providing some time for coworkers to gather together and console one another is definitely a good idea.

In the weeks after the death, your company should offer optional counseling and support to help them confront their emotions and deal with fear, anxiety, depression, sadness, or anything else they’re dealing with.

Some employees will take longer to recover than others. You don’t want to rush people back into action or you’ll seem insensitive. Put your employees first and remember that their emotional health ultimately contributes to the company’s financial health.

4. Properly remember the deceased

How you handle the memory of the deceased employee in the weeks, months, and years after the death will, to a large degree, impact how those inside and outside of the company view your organization’s CSR commitment.

Whether the deceased individual worked in the mailroom or had a corner office in the C-suite, you need to do something. This could be as simple as naming a star after the person, or as involved as starting a foundation in their name. 

Putting it all together 

The triple bottom line is about people, planet, and profit – in that order. Often times, we get things backward and put profit first. Ideally, it doesn’t take a tragedy to realign your focus and put your CSR strategy back on track.

The death of an employee is never easy. From a human perspective, you owe it to your other employees and the family of the deceased to send your condolences and offer emotional support in their time of need. From a business perspective, you have an obligation to all of your stakeholders to slow down and put people over profits.

Image credit: Flickr / Dun.can

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