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I manage a close-knit team at work where I am currently the team lead. The company is big, but the culture is relatively relaxed. Building relationships with team members is encouraged.

Unfortunately, I learned yesterday that a team member on the team passed away in the hospital, quite likely from COVID-19 as he notified me that he tested positive. He was a great team member and much valued by me as well as many others in the company due to cross team projects in the past. I have been working with him for about three years.

How can I pay respects for him being a highly valued employee and person without intruding on his family in a time of loss?

Would attendance at the wake or funeral services be appropriate or too intrusive and possibly unwelcome?

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Jeffrey's anwser covers the business/team side quite well and there isn't much to add to his solid answer, but I would like to provide an answer on a more emotional level towards the deceased and their family.

I can definitely understand (been in a similar situation about 6 years ago) that you have certain sentiments towards that very much liked and valued team member after 3 years working with him and that you and/or the team feel the need to express those while not being too intrusive.

Attending the funeral is a bit much and would be seen as intrusive by other family members or close friends who might not even know you or the other team-members, but a personal, handwritten condolence letter from the team to the family would be a reasonable and appreciated reaction:

[enter name here] was a great team member and much valued and appreciated by me as well as many others in the team...

You can mention special qualities of the deceased, recall good memories you have of the person, remind the bereaved of their personal strengths. You could also offer help, but be specific. End with a word or phrase of sympathy for the ones who are left behind mourning.

When I was in this situation 6 years ago, we knew that the deceased left behind a wife, two kids and a half-finished house he was currently building - so besides sending a condolence letter signed by almost the whole company, we started a fundraiser within the company to relief the mother of some of her financial burdens, especially in regard to her pre-school kids and the unfinished house.

We were able to raise quite a substantial sum and handed it over to the widow. But again - this was a very special case so that might not apply to the situation of the deceased in question.

Addition in regard to the comments:

The question whether a work colleague should also attend the funeral or even ask about it might depend on the following:

  • Association and relation :
    • How long have you known and how close were you with the deceased?
    • Do you know their family and the deceased close friends?
    • Were you involved in private activities with them before?
  • Cultural and religious background:
    • Is it common regarding the cultural background to invite work colleagues as well?
    • Are there any religious aspects in terms of the funeral-process? How do they impact?
  • The funeral process itself:
    • Were invites or verbal requests/permission sent out to attend the funeral?
    • Is it a large and public funeral or a small and private one with only close family-members?
    • If invited, how many of the team should attend by the nature of the funeral (size etc.)?

So as already pointed out by @alephzero, this is not just a delicate situation - the decision to ask or to attend a funeral as a work colleague depends on cultural, social and religious aspects that largely vary around the globe and throughout societies.

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    Accepting this answer due to specific actions suggested,very helpful and strikes a nice balance – Anthony Dec 3 '20 at 23:12
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    Attending the funeral is culture (and religion) dependent. In the UK, for a "mainstream" Christian or non-denominational funeral of someone who died while employed or after being recently retired, it would be quite normal for a small number (1 or 2) of work colleagues to attend the funeral service (which is public event), but not to intrude on any private gatherings immediately before or after it. Of course Covid-19 may also impose restrictions. – alephzero Dec 4 '20 at 0:01
  • @alephzero Thanks for your comment - good point! I hope you don't mind that I've incorparted some of your thoughts into the answer.. ;) – iLuvLogix Dec 4 '20 at 9:15
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    I down voted because you started with "it would be a bit much". In the US I expect the funeral/visitation/memorial announcement to be explicit, either public or private, and public easily includes coworkers. Also it is typically explicit about sending flowers (or "donation in lieu of flowers"), etc. – user3067860 Dec 4 '20 at 15:46
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    Perhaps helpful debretts.com/expertise/rites-of-passage/death/… I was always under impression that a funeral (I'm not talking about social gathering before or after the service) is a public "event" in European and American culture. Perhaps I'm missing something but everyone is welcome to attend. – ElmoVanKielmo Dec 5 '20 at 1:11
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There will not be a universal answer. But my expectations, from a team lead, would be for you to focus on team members at work.

  • Make sure they learn about it in an appropriate way. Internal communication, nicely written, or video with correct tone. In person, usually, but given the circumstances...

  • make sure to ask how they feel.

  • provide time and space. Some will be shocked, possibly affected for a while. Others will seem to shrug it off and continue as if nothing. Allow both behaviours.

  • leave the family alone, unless you already have connections with them. I had one manager, once, that had dinner with us, knew my kids. Then yeah, spouse would want to hear from manager. But otherwise (the other 8 jobs) ? Nope. In the vast majority of cases, they don't care or want to hear about the professional side. They need to mourn. That typically happens with family members.

(Atheist/humanist perspective. Religion/culture could affect what's expected or right)

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Generally in in US culture the appropriate gesture would be to send something to the immediate family of the team member that passed away. (Card, flowers, charitable donation in the deceased's honor-- particularly to a cause they cared strongly about, food/fruit gift basket are all common choices.) Include a short handwritten message expressing sympathy and saying how much you valued/liked/appreciated your team member. A favorite nice or funny-but-not-unflattering memory of the deceased is a nice thing to include in the note if you have one.

Direct contact with the family can come across as intrusive if you haven't previously met or aren't on social terms with them. In a very tight knit team where you know your team member's families you might want to do something more personal, but in a more typical situation written correspondence with an optional gift, is a good way to send the message that you cared about this person without intruding on the family sphere.

Make sure to look after your remaining team who may be affected, especially if they were friendly and close with the team member who passed away.

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I want to add an additional remark that I haven't seen anyone add yet.

I don't know where exactly in the USA you are, but a lot of places have instituted restrictions on how many people may be present at a funeral, usually limiting it to only the closest relatives from their household. The reason is that they limit the number of interactions across households, which are a major reason for the spread of COVID. If that's the case, you would likely not be allowed to attend the funeral.

Since you are assuming your team member likely died of COVID-19, there's a good chance that others in his household are also infected, potentially without exhibiting symptoms. In that respect, it is REALLY not a good idea to attend the funeral of a person who died of COVID.

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As a manager you have a number of responsibilities to different parties you need to make sure to discharge.

First of all, make sure HR knows, since you're a large company I would assume it's their role to inform survivors of benefits and such (there are usually a bunch of leftover medical bills that need to get submitted to their insurance, possibly life insurance, and so on). They can also provide any other existing guidance they have.

Secondly, communicate it to your team in as personal a way as possible. If meeting in person is not available because of the pandemic or other causes, get them on a call. Don't do it in a group, do it one on one, so that people can process without worrying about what others think.

Only you know how close your team really is and the circumstances. I've been on teams where everyone would be like "well that's sad" and move on, and other teams where everyone was quite good friends, knew each others' spouses and children and so on and it wasn't just a "business communication." Contact HR about if a grief counselor can be brought in if needed, a large company probably has something like that planned for. I worked at one place where a manager died in a... particularly. high profile way and we brought in a counselor to help people through it.

Thirdly, it is nice to show your appreciation to the family - a card is the bare minimum, usually one would spring for flowers at the funeral or another of @Meg's good ideas, in some places the company will fund it, in others you take up a collection.

Normally you wouldn't go to the service "as a work group," though individuals that were actually close to them may want to attend and I'd recommend giving them the time off to do so. It'd be intrusive, unless you are specifically invited. Customs vary from place to place and type of job to type of job, however. When my Mexican grandfather died down here in Texas, everyone who ever knew him from work, church, whatever came by, that was the expected norm and staying away because someone was "just a coworker" would have been considered weird and antisocial. If you're not "from around there" ask others what the local norm might be.

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  • I feel this is the best that is spot on. I might set up a reminder notice and check in on them. They were part of the life, but sometimes people set up very rigid borders they don't want crossed. Only you can know those levels and differences. I've attended quite a few funerals for colleagues over the years. The families have always been 'happy' to see me, but realize 'happy' is in the 'fully shocked and have no real idea what's going on' at times. You'll make the right call I'm sure... and if it looks bad, get out asap. They'll likely not remember it :( – J.Hirsch Dec 5 '20 at 19:25
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Where I work it's common for the team manager to reach out to the family of a deceased member, express their condolences on behalf of the team and ask how they prefer the company to participate. Possible choices include:

  • Nothing at all
  • A wreath is delivered by the company to the funeral
  • A representative from the company is sent to the funeral with a speech
  • The date and place of the funeral is communicated to the team members and they are told they are free to join

The feedback from the relatives is then communicated back to the team.

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