Ways to Honor a Deceased Coworker

Meaningful ways you can keep a staff member or business associate's memory alive

Photos on bulletin board
Photo © Dimitri Otis/Getty Images

When a coworker, 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. Unfortunately -- and far too often -- businesses 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.

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.

This article offers meaningful ways that you can honor a deceased coworker, colleague or business associate and keep his or her memory alive. Whether you presently grapple with the grief caused by the death of a coworker, or you seek to improve your company's response from a managerial or human resources perspective, these suggestions can help.

Bring a Dish to Pass

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.

Branch Out

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.

It's Hammer Time

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.

Thanks for the Memories

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 and awards, and/or objects used in a favorite hobby, such as a golf club or fishing hat.

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 Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., that they can share.

Afterward, transform your memory board into a printed photo book using Shutterfly, Flickr or a similar service, have every employee sign it and then present it to your coworker's family.

Become an Education Enabler

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.

Pay It Forward

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.

Make a Night of It

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.

Play the Name Game

Buildings on college campuses, or sections within those structures, often bear the name of the principal donor. (Incredibly, the University of Colorado - Boulder even allowed a donor to purchase naming rights to a science-facility restroom!) 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.

Team Up!

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 in a local park or along a roadway, building a new playground for children, serving food to the hungry, etc., the opportunities to heal through helping abound. So 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 coworker. (For a list of opportunities to help someone else in your area, visit the Volunteer Match website.) If appropriate, your team could also wear special "in memory of" T-shirts made for the occasion.

Never Forget

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.

"Cash-strapped colleges dangle ever more naming rights to draw donors" by Mara Rose Williams, April 21, 2013. The Kansas City Star.  http://www.theolathenews.com/2013/04/21/1906431/cash-strapped-colleges-dangle.html

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