THE ETIQUETTE OF
Its bound to happen sooner or later
an employee loses a parent, a colleagues spouse passes
away, the child of a client dies. But most of the books on workplace etiquette conveniently skip right over the subject.
Most of us want to do the right thing, but arent really sure what the right thing is.
It was easier in Victorian
days, when society clearly spelled out the etiquette of grief. Stern manuals on correct behavior told us what color clothes
we should wear and for how long, what should be said in a sympathy letter, and how long we must wait after a bereavement before
we could be seen dancing in public.
Times have changed, and the rules of social conduct are much more obscure. There
may no longer be a right thing to do, but consider the following suggestions.
Question: Should I send
Answer: Absolutely. Or a personal note. Messages of sympathy acknowledge the bereavement, and can be enormously
comforting to the grieving family. But avoid anything overtly religious unless you are close enough to the family to be absolutely
certain of their beliefs.
Question: Should I send flowers?
Answer: Not automatically. Find out first if that
is what the family wants. These days, many families prefer donations to be made to a specific charitable organization in
lieu of flowers. If youre not sure, and dont see this information listed in a newspaper obituary, you can call
the funeral home or the family and ask.
Question: Should I go to the funeral?
Answer: That depends. If the
family has specifically invited you to attend, then by all means go if you feel you can. If not, then decide for yourself
if you would like to attend. Remember that funerals are for the living, and not for the deceased. Your presence is a mark
of respect, and offers a tangible show of support.
Question: What should I say to the bereaved when they return
to the workplace, or when I meet them in the normal course of business?
Answer: Anything. It is better to say the
wrong thing with sincerity than to say nothing at all. It takes time to heal from a loss, and if no one speaks of it the
bereaved may feel even lonelier. Express your sympathy, ask how the person is doing, and even share a memory of the deceased
if you have one. Remember to include the bereaved person in invitations. Often we distance ourselves from those who are
grieving because we are uncomfortable, but this sends a painful message.
Question: Id really like to do something
practical to help, but what?
Answer: Vague offers of help are often made to the bereaved, but in the midst of grief
it is sometimes difficult to think clearly enough to take advantage of them. If you see something specific that you feel
would be helpful, offer to do it. Dont automatically send food. Often this is the first response when a family has
been bereaved, and can create an unintentional burden. Do consider providing gift certificates for local restaurants, or
dropping off a bag of paper plates and plastic utensils to help the family cope with visitors. You might send a packet of
thank you for your sympathy cards and a book of stamps, or even arrange for a house cleaning or gardening service
to help deal with some of the chores.
Question: One of my employees has lost a family member. What kind of time off
do I have to provide?
Answer: There are no state or federal laws mandating bereavement leave. Most companies, however,
have some sort of paid time off in the event of a death in the family. Your employee handbook should include such a policy.
Remember, however, that a few days off may not be all your employee needs. Assisting the employee with additional time off,
counseling, or other benefits may ensure that he or she is able to return to regular work more quickly. In addition, your
response to the situation may improve worker morale and help build loyalty.
Emily Post said, Manners are a sensitive
awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter which fork you use.
An awareness of how the bereaved person feels, even if you cant understand or share the depth of emotion, is the best
guide to doing the right thing.
(c) 2004 Ronda Lawson