COVID-19 Bereavement Communication

Bereavement communication is important as companies across the world continue to struggle with loss of revenues and slowly, loss of lives following the loss of their staff members to the global pandemic. Internal communications specialists are now facing a huge challenge. One of the discussions on a group on Internal Communications was around guidelines for communicating the loss of an employee during a pandemic like this one.

Some of the questions that were raised in the forum include

  • How does one communicate news like this?
  • How large should the audience be?
  • Who should send out the communication?
  • How should it be worded?
  • Should we name the staff members who we have lost?
  • Should we include their families in the communication?

Very few companies have a well-defined bereavement communication policy in place to communicate difficult news related to workplace bereavement. While building communications around the loss of individuals who were associated with your company, the following aspects have to be well thought-out:

Confirmation of Facts:

  • Always ensure that you have your facts from the right source and that source is the local authorities and the immediate family itself.
  • Understand the cause of death with clarity.
  • Use the right verbiage in all communications with all stakeholders. Be mindful of ‘personal’ adjectives or opinionated remarks.

Bereaved Family:

  • Connect via phone (never use emails for communications that require empathy) with the bereaved family to ascertain facts. Note down who you have spoken to for records. It should be expected that the immediate family may not be in a position to speak – request to speak to someone who is able to.
  • Offer empathy and moral support. Inform them of Employee Assistance programs if you have any within the organisation.
  • Discuss the extent to which they are okay with sharing the news. Understand and confirm whether it would be acceptable to them if you communicated the news with a wider audience.
  • Confirm how they would like to be reached out to, by concerned team members, colleagues, acquaintances, etc., if at all. If they request for no contact, please ensure you include this in your communications.

Breadth of Communication:

  • If the bereaved family has requested for a smaller broadcast, ensure you keep the news of this loss only with their immediate team members and work colleagues.
  • If you have decided to make a wider broadcast, ensure that the immediate work colleagues have been informed personally via phone call before the communication goes out.
  • Sensitise senior managers and leaders within the organisation with resources on how to tackle questions and enquiries related to loss of a colleague.
  • Very important: Avoid using WhatsApp groups or other such social messaging tools for sensitive communications like these.

Containing gossip, loose talk and panic:

  • While an ideal scenario assumes that everyone would be empathetic towards the loss of a colleague, cliques or groups could end up discussing what could have happened, how it would have happened, someone somewhere would have had the last conversation with the colleague, details like these will end up on the grapevine – that’s human nature.
  • It is very important for Internal Communication leaders and/or CxOs to foresee such situations and proactively take steps to contain such discussions by publishing clear procedure manual and educating your staff on what’s appropriate and what’s not.
  • Do not rest even if a crisis communication gossip management manual exists. Dig it back up, update it, make it relevant and share it once again in easy to understand messages via internal channels, emails, graphics, LED display screens etc.

Single Point of Contact:

  • Leaders, mostly country heads, CEOs or MDs should appoint their Internal Communication Heads as the single point of contact for all queries related to loss of colleagues during global crises like COVID19.
  • IC Heads need to be armed with correct facts and figures to communicate what is permissible and what is not. It is their responsibility to sensitise all those who enquire on how to share the information ahead and whether to share it or not. In fact, it is always safe to prohibit further dissemination of information and request for enquiries to be directed to the official IC desk.

Drafting the actual communication:

  • Let go of the pleasantries, the frills and the philosophies – this is not the time to do so.
  • Keep your communication short, crisp and to the point, but ensure that the tone of communication is empathetic and kind. This is the most important aspect of your draft.
  • Do not talk about the world, about what others are going through, do not mention anything that remotely talks about revenue loss or business getting disturbed – this is not the time to mention anything even remotely materialistic.
  • Inform what has happened and communicate collective condolences. Also, if possible, mention that the individual’s contribution to the organisation, no matter how small or big, will be cherished and that they will be missed.
  • Clearly indicate that those who know the family are to refrain from contacting the family if the family has requested so. In case the family has provided an email for communication, include a note directing to connect with SPOC for passing on your condolences with family. Never broadcast an email or contact details publicly.
  • End the note with what the company has planned in terms of supporting the bereaved family, if any support has been offered.
  • Seek prayers and strength for the family and reiterate the need for sensible sensitivity around the subject.


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