Ideas for Honoring a Deceased Colleague

When a co-worker, colleague, or business associate dies, the effect on surviving staff members is generally underappreciated by company management, even though the resulting grief can prove just as debilitating to the deceased's co-workers as that experienced by his or her immediate family and close friends.

Sad man packing up office
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Unfortunately, businesses often attempt to "move on" as quickly as possible in the mistaken belief that the less said, the better in terms of employee morale and productivity.

Why It Matters

In reality, companies and their surviving employees are better served by openly acknowledging the death of an employee/coworker in a structured and meaningful manner. Such responses not only provide an appropriate outlet for the genuine sadness and sense of loss felt by the deceased's professional peers, but they also reinforce the feeling that the company values and cares about its employees as people.

How You Can Honor the Memory of a Deceased Coworker

Whether you presently grapple with grief caused by the death of a co-worker or you seek to improve your company's response from a managerial or human resources perspective, these suggestions can help.

Hold a Memorial Service

Even if your company's official bereavement policy allowed employees to attend the wake/visitation and/or the funeral/committal service during work hours, honor your deceased coworker by holding a special memorial service at work. This event can take whatever form surviving staff members feel is appropriate, but holding a breakfast or luncheon is generally a nice idea.

To minimize the expense, ask employees to provide a food or drink item for a buffet-style meal, after which anyone who desires to can offer a favorite memory or a few words about the coworker. If circumstances warrant, invite the deceased's immediate family member(s) to attend, too.

Plant a Tree

Many companies provide outdoor areas where employees gather during breaks, enjoy lunch or even conduct meetings when the weather is nice. If this describes your workplace, then beautify the company grounds by planting a tree in honor of the deceased and/or installing a memorial bench.

Adding an engraved plaque, rock or marker bearing the employee's name, service dates and a meaningful quotation provides a nice touch.

Hang a Plaque or Photograph

Within your company's building, a bare wall in a reception area, entrance foyer, break room or hallway offers a perfect place to hang a memorial plaque and/or a photograph of your coworker. Either of these items could include the employee's name and service dates, as well as a quotation if desired.

Create a Memory Board

Often seen at funeral visitations/wakes, a "memory board" displays a selection of photographs capturing significant moments in the life of the deceased. After choosing the images, surviving loved ones sometimes enhance this presentation by grouping it with other meaningful items, such as diplomas, medals, awards, and objects used in a favorite hobby.

If you don't have access to enough photographs or objects, ask the immediate family to provide a few, if appropriate. In addition, ask surviving coworkers if they've posted any relevant photos to social media that they would be willing to share.

Afterward, transform your memory board into a printed photo book, have every employee sign it, and then present it to your co-worker's family.

Establish a Scholarship

According to Benjamin Franklin, only death and taxes were certainties. Today, parents and students alike might add the ever-increasing cost of obtaining a secondary education to that list. With college, university and vocational school tuitions on the rise, potential students appreciate every form of financial aid possible, so why not establish a scholarship in memory of your departed coworker?

Whether funded by the company or an annual fundraising event, amounts as low as $250 will help a student meet the costs of his or her post-high-school education. If appropriate, you could even focus the scholarship to help those pursuing the deceased's career path, such as accounting or marketing.

Hold a Fundraiser

If your coworker left behind a spouse and children, hold a fundraiser and give the proceeds to the family to help pay funeral expenses or to establish a college fund for the kids.

Raising some money might be as simple as asking fellow employees to make a voluntary contribution, or it might require more planning if you want to hold an event, such as a golf tournament, 5K run/walk, a memorial dinner or pub crawl, etc.

Plan a Fun Outing

Did your coworker love to dance, check out the newest restaurant or listen to live music? Was he or she always up for visiting a comedy club, catching a ball game or shooting some hoops? If there was a particular activity your former colleague enjoyed, then post a sign-up sheet in the break room and invite your fellow employees to an informal after-work event inspired by your coworker's hobby or favorite activity.

If you've never bowled before or the thought of riding a horse makes your knees buckle, just remind yourself how much your departed coworker would appreciate your effort and the thought behind it.

Name a Space or an Event

Buildings on college campuses, or sections within those structures, often bear the name of the principal donor. While it might not be practical for your company to name or rename its headquarters, perhaps the firm could name an office, meeting room, wing or floor in honor of the deceased employee. For example, if he or she worked in your information technology department, then the room housing all of the computer hardware might be designated the "Jonathan Smith Server Room."

If naming a physical space proves impractical, then maybe you can name a company event that occurs regularly, such as a picnic, holiday party, training session, etc., in honor of your coworker.

Volunteer as a Team

At many companies, employees regularly volunteer their time and energy for a good cause as part of their employer's commitment to its community. Whether this service day involves picking up trash along a roadway, building a new playground for children, or serving food to the hungry, the opportunities to heal through helping abound.

Form a team with your coworkers, identify how your time and talents can benefit your community and get out there in honor of your deceased co-worker. If appropriate, your team could also wear special "in memory of" T-shirts made for the occasion.

Take Time to Pause and Reflect

The nearest thing to immortality that any of us can hope to achieve is to stay alive in the memory of those who knew and loved us. Therefore, on the anniversary of your coworker's death or any time the spirit moves you, pause and reflect on the privilege you had of knowing him or her — even if that time wasn't nearly long enough.

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