Q. I work for a small company, and it is up to me to notify employees that a coworker just died. Customers and suppliers who worked closely with him must be told, as well. Is it okay to inform people via email? What should I say? Do I have to include funeral details?
In large organizations, managers, supervisors, or department heads usually inform employees or associates of the death and follow specific guidelines from Human Resources. Spreading the word tends to be more informal in small companies or firms because employees can feel like a family. Yet be aware of basic caveats. Number one is making sure next of kin have been informed before issuing an announcement. Be certain of the facts, as well. For example, if there is any doubt about the cause of death, play it safe and don’t mention it or say “Further information will follow.”
Try to be sensitive and deliver the news by phone (or in person, if possible) to anyone who was extremely close to the deceased. For others, an email announcement is fine. One option would be: “With deep sadness I must let you know that Patricia Jones died this morning at Mercy Hospital.” If the death was sudden, you might say, “I am sorry to have to share tragic news. Mitch Smith was killed in a collision on Route 28 last night.” Yes, it’s helpful to include funeral information, if available, as in “The funeral will be held at Central St. Church at 11AM on Tuesday.” Or you can write, “Plans for a memorial service are in progress.” If employees will receive time off to attend the funeral, include that information in the email, too. If the funeral will be private, say so.
The process is similar when informing members of a golf, tennis or book club or other group about the death of a fellow member. I recently received an email announcing that a member of my bridge club died – someone who had been ill on and off for a long time. Because I knew the sender had a personal relationship with the deceased, I responded “I’m so sad to hear about Joe. I know you were a devoted friend to him. I send sincere condolences.” Friends mourn, too, but their grief is often overlooked or minimized.
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Florence Isaacs is the author of several books on etiquette, including My Deepest Sympathies: Meaningful Sentiments for Condolence Notes a.... She writes two advice blogs for Legacy.com: Sincere Condolences and Widow in the World, a new blog for bereaved spouses and partners.
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