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My coworker's father passed away. The following day, an employee from HR sent out an office-wide email with the obituary and viewing details with the coworker's permission, and started a fund for a flower arrangement to be sent by the office.

This coworker is higher than me in the company hierarchy but not over me. We have worked together on several projects, and he had discussed his father's health with me in the past. He has been recently promoted and we are unlikely to work together again.

I'm unsure of the appropriate response from me here.

  • I could contribute to the office flower fund and otherwise ignore this happening.
  • I could make a donation to the parish of the deceased, as requested in his obituary.
  • I could approach him during work hours and offer my condolences, but that definitely does not fit my office's culture.
  • I could attend the viewing, but I don't want to intrude into his personal life without an explicit invitation.

What is the appropriate response to the death of my coworker's loved one?

  • 14
    Wait until you go run into them and tell them sorry for you loss. This is a time of privacy for the person. – paparazzo Aug 20 '15 at 17:45
  • Slight refinement to @frisbee's answer: if you're in a position to do so, ask them to let you know if there's any reasonable accommodation the business can make to help them get thru this rough time. Don't push -- some folks are intensely private, and some grieve in ways that make maintaining a normal work schedule helpful -- but they'll appreciate the offer. – keshlam Aug 21 '15 at 4:21
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    There is no general answer. When my father died in an accident, I didn't want anything from the company I worked for back then. I only told my manager and one person in HR, for I was at home the week after, but that was it. Not everyone wants attention. – phresnel Aug 21 '15 at 9:48
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    +1 there is no general answer, now in the @phresnel's extreme opposite : A few years ago the girlfriend of a coworker died in a motorcycle accident (coworker was injured in said accident). All the company (40 people) went to the viewing and the more intimate coworkers even went to the hospital right after they knew of it. The coworker really really appreciated it. It really depends on company culture and the circumstances of the person suffering the loss. – Carlos Campderrós Aug 21 '15 at 11:11
  • I tend to agree with @phresnel, my father died last year, and I only let a few people at the company know who I thought needed to know, aside from that I didn't want anyone else to know. Saying that, I've always been a private person, and having a constant flow of people bringing up the topic every time I bumped into them in the corridor was something I didn't think I could handle, so I asked HR that no one who didn't need to be told was told. Completely off topic, the best response I had from a friend was essentially "Wanna go get drunk?". It depends on the person, there is no right answer. – Dark Hippo Aug 21 '15 at 13:42
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Having experienced the death of my father a few years ago, I can tell you that the most appropriate response depends on your personal relationship with the coworker.

I would not consider going to the viewing unless personally invited by the coworker. The viewing info might have been circulated by HR simply because they asked him about it and he responded. In any case, it is understood that attending viewings in western cultures isn't "required" unless you are family or very close.

For the formalities, you should do what feels authentic regardless of others may or may not do. Contribute to the flower fund if you like and sign a card. It is also perfectly appropriate to briefly exchange some kind words when the coworker returns. Saying nothing regarding the death is ALSO fine.

The best thing you can do if you work with this person is to try and do whatever is reasonable to ensure he's not slammed with work when he gets back from bereavement (assuming his boss needs people to pick up the slack). This doesn't involve saying anything and it will be certainly appreciated.

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    +1 especially for "For the formalities, you should do what feels authentic regardless of others may or may not do. " This is solid advice for professional and personal situations. – StuperUser Aug 21 '15 at 12:24
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    "I wouldn't be concerned with going to the viewing unless you're personally invited by the coworker" I would probably say if you're not sure, don't go. If you're a close personal friend of the coworker, you'd know for sure if you should go or not. – Andy Aug 21 '15 at 13:10
  • @StuperUser yeap. Like - be human, do whatever you feel. – mgarciaisaia Aug 21 '15 at 21:33
  • You were correct about HR, they found the obituary online. I did not attend the viewing, but I did make a contribution to the parish of the deceased. – MackM Oct 13 '15 at 18:07
  • The two best parts of this answer are "do what feels authentic" and "...ensure he's not slammed with work..." – TecBrat Jul 1 '16 at 15:10
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As you've worked with your colleague in the past and discussed his father's health, nobody should think that you're attempting to "suck up" by attending the viewing. You're showing appropriate respect for a colleague.

Similarly, I wouldn't say that passing on your condolences is in any way unprofessional. It's a private gesture to show that you care about your colleague's loss. If doing it in person wouldn't fit with your workplace's culture, send an email or get him an individual card or similar.

  • This would depend a lot on both office culture and societal norms but if it would be atypical to extend your condolences in person (implying the lack of a close relationship) then attending the viewing would probably be even weirder. – Lilienthal Aug 20 '15 at 19:23
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    Agreed in general. But why have HR send round viewing details if you're not expecting people to show up - I'm just going by what's written in the question. – Philip Kendall Aug 20 '15 at 19:35
  • True. I'm assuming that it's for his reports or close work friends, but I'm sure that in some workplaces it would make sense for the OP to attend. – Lilienthal Aug 20 '15 at 19:36
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I lost my mother and step father recently within 6 months of each other. I greatly appreciate the support from the co-workers that did reach out to me to say they were sorry. Some were simple gestures, some sent emails, some gave me something to read that was comforting, and others did nothing but stare with pity in their eyes.

It's a tough situation for anybody to go through and any show of support is the right thing to do, regardless of company culture, structure, etc. This type of thing cuts through all of that right to the core of who we are. I suggest you show whatever level of support you would want in return, at a minimum reach out and tell your co-worker that you are thinking of them and to let you know if you can do anything to help them.

I know I appreciate the support I got from co-workers, no matter the gesture.

7

I'd go with the contribution and signing the sympathy card. If you were a small office and "rubbed elbows" with him regularly you might want to a express sympathy the next time you saw him. If he was a friend with whom who you had shared experiences outside of work you might want to go to the funeral.

He's got a lot to deal with right now, and having hoards of coworkers descending on him to express sympathy might be a bit overwhelming. Though leaving a card or a "cheer-me-up" on his desk anonymously might be a nice gesture.

4

I think the key point here is that he discussed his fathers health with you.

I highly doubt that he will think it is odd that he does not hear anything from you, but it will most certainly be seen as something nice, if you somehow ran into him in the hallway and said something like "I'm sorry to hear about your dad, I know he was dear to you" and then take his cue if he wants to talk.

If trying to run into him will have you seem to be loitering in the halls of upper management, writing a personalized card for him to get at the office would be nice as well.

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I would like to add that you as coworker should not be too anxious about the right behavior.

I think many people who have lost a loved one can confirm that the grief is often so debilitating that other people are experienced as background actors and you cannot fully acknowledge what is happening around you. You are also in a state of excessive demand: Many things must be organized and completed so you are absent-minded.

Everything that can considered acknowledgement is welcome: compassionate silence, a short "I am sorry" (personally under four eyes, e-mail etc.), a grieving card. It will be also gratefully accepted if you disburden the bereaved by taking over work and giving him a bit time.
Some things which IMHO are not so appropiate and not-so-obvious are remarks like "Life goes on" or "Cheer up !" or if all coworkers together are speaking out condolences. Not too many people at once. But it is not really bad if that happens because, as said, you are not really receptive and you have not the strength to grumble.

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As someone who has had multiple griefs and worked with many many people who had a loss, I think you should, at a minimum, say something personally.

It is not inappropriate or unprofessional to say "I am sorry for your loss" at work and to ignore someone's grief is very inappropriate and quite hurtful. The person will let you know by their reaction if they want to talk further or if you should drop the subject.People who don't want others to express condolences, generally do not have an announcement of their loss at work.

Other appropriate actions are a condolence email or an individual card.

As far as the viewing, I found it comforting when people from work showed up. Perhaps though, you should see if others around you are planning to go and go as a group, stay for about ten minutes and leave. That would make it seem less like you were sucking up.

If you were working in the same group as this person, there is no excuse for not attending a local viewing that you were officially informed of (which is what the HR announcement is, people who do not want co-workers to attend do not provide the details to HR or ask them to limit the announcement to select few.).

However as you do not work directly with him, the choice is yours. Since you have in the past worked with him, it would not be inappropriate for you to be there. (Attending the viewing to support a person you have barely met who you never had had any work contact with would more likely be intrusive.) I have attended many of these and have never yet seen one where it was inappropriate for co-workers to attend and generally their attendance is well received (again if the person wanted things handled privately, they would not have made an announcement). No one is specifically invited to attend a viewing, so don't worry that you were not specifically asked. Viewings are for the people suffering from the loss, it doesn't matter if you knew the deceased if you know someone who was directly affected by the loss. The idea is to give support to the grievers.

0

I'm in the UK, and the specifics of an answer to this question are culture-dependent (and religion-dependent, if applicable).

It seems to me there are two separate issues here. One is the "formal" response to the bereavement by the company, and the other is your personal response as an individual.

In the UK, it would be customary for the company to organize a collection for a flower fund, or for a donation to a charity or organization which the bereaved employee might prefer as an alternative. For example I can remember one instance where the collection was for a local mountain search-and-rescue operation which the deceased was an active member of. That would be handled in a similar way to a collection for a retiree, etc. The amount of your individual donation would be anonymous, though there may be a list of the donors' signatures.

In the UK, the company would probably select a (small) number of employees to attend the funeral ceremonies as representatives of the company, not as private individuals. They would most likely be the bereaved person's manager(s) and close colleagues.

Beyond that, any other response would be entirely on the basis of personal friendship, and strangers on an internet forum can't really tell you what is appropriate for you to do.

One thing that you might like to remember (and this is based on my personal experience): the grieving process takes a long time to work through (maybe up to a year) and during that time there will almost certainly be "ups and downs" when random events trigger memories. But casual acquaintances and work colleagues will often have pretty much forgotten about the bereavement within a few days. Dealing with people who never knew, or have forgotten about the bereaved's situation, can be hard, and explaining it to strangers or reminding people about it can be a "too much information situation".

You might never get any obvious feedback from remembering to "cut the guy some slack" for as long as it takes, but do it anyway. It will mean more than a few quickly-forgotten platitudes that you might say right now.

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