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What to Do When You Lose a Colleague

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Earlier this week, I got an email from an advisory firm owner dealing with the death of an employee, who recently passed away from COVID-19 complications. As I read his email, it reminded me of a time I had to deal with the death of a colleague.

With that, I reached into the archives and sent the advisor a blog I wrote in 2009, when Herbers & Company lost an employee, too. I just updated it.

My hope, of course, is that no advisory firm has to go through the loss of employee during the coronavirus pandemic. But, if the worst happens and you do, perhaps this blog can support and help you.

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Here’s the situation: We’ve had a tragedy in our office. One of our treasured employees died.

As you might expect, we were heart broken — I still am heartbroken. In a small business like ours, the loss of any employee has a major impact, and even more so when it’s the result of something tragic.

In our culture, people usually don’t have to deal with the loss of a peer. We’re often more prepared to deal with the loss of grandparents and eventually parents, and then, we usually  have family to support us.

But in a small company, where co-workers usually become friends, the loss can be felt very deeply.

We all cope with grief and loss in our own ways — denial, anger, overwork, avoidance, etc. What I know for sure is that it’s important to let everyone work through their sudden shock in their own way.

Yes, we have to work together to maintain our high level of client service, which in itself can be healing. But we also need to be aware that our colleagues likely will have additional needs — and probably will require a good deal of time — to get back to the point where they’re doing business as usual.

As business owners and leaders of our firms, we should be sensitive to these various needs. And understand, no matter how much you have gone through personally and professionally, that there’s no right way to deal with tragedy.

Having individuals make decisions before they’re ready to make them usually doesn’t turn out well under any circumstances. When people are dealing with strong emotions, such as grief, the results even can be worse. And that goes double for firm owners.

Before we do anything as leaders, we need to get ourselves back to place where we’re thinking clearly about our business, our clients and our employees — and we should really try not to push people to move forward when they aren’t ready.

In life, we have to let go of people in different circumstances.

When tragedy strikes, what makes a great leader in the professional world is if they realize they have to take care of their own emotions first, without immediately reacting; next, they should continue to wait, be patient, support others and be sensitive to everyone around them.

Eventually, time will heal this wound. I know, without any doubt, that you will find a way to move on.

I know this because I been through this experience and survived. If I can do it, I know you can, too.