Working Through Grief: Keeping Your Business Afloat in Hard Times

by Thom Tracy

3 min read

Sooner or later, a tragic event may threaten to derail the plans you’ve made for your business. Whether it is the death of a long-time partner, a spouse or child, or even the loss of an employee, tragedies have the potential to interfere with the running of your business by taking you away from work or lowering employee morale. Whatever your business, you still have a job to do and must carry on. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to buffer your business against loss and keep things running through the bad times.

When an Employee Dies

Losing an employee cuts close to everyone in the company. Not only does the loss take away someone who brought unique talents to the job but your employees have likely lost a friend they may have known for many years. Morale can ebb dangerously low when the whole team is grieving, but having a well-defined bereavement leave and survivor benefits policy in place before the loss can set many people’s minds at ease that however much it hurts to lose a friend, the company is looking out for them. After the event, you can make the mourning process part of the company’s culture. Consider hosting a memorial for the late employee in the office or at an off-site location, or put up a framed picture of the deceased, perhaps next to a whiteboard where people can write their favorite memories of their friend. Handled properly, this approach can raise morale by bringing the workforce together in its grief.

When Death Takes a Partner

When your business partner dies, you’re right to have concerns about the future of the company. The other person may have been holding up half of the company, and you might find yourself with uncertain prospects for handling the workload, managing the finances, or even keeping the doors open if your partner’s heirs wind up selling his or her share of the company. Apart from having a plan in place that outlines just what to do in this scenario, you can forge ahead by finding a respectful moment and meeting with your partner’s next of kin. Remember that the people you’re meeting are likely to be in turmoil themselves, and tact is needed. Tell the family all of the important things your late partner did for the business, and then explain how the loss now threatens the company. Ask what their plans are for disposing of your partner’s interest; they may be willing to sell to you, or they may want to step into the background and let you manage the company as you have been, possibly with a board of directors looking after their interests. Whatever their wishes turn out to be, you’re better off knowing them and planning ahead before such matters become an issue.

Working Through Your Own Loss

Your own grief could also interfere with the way you run your business. If you’ve lost a spouse or child, or someone else very close to you, you might react by losing interest in the details of running your company. Even if you intend to forge ahead, making arrangements for your loved one and consoling others in your circle can rob you of the time you once put into your work. There’s no healthy way to accelerate the grieving process, and you have to pass through this time at your own pace, but it helps to give yourself the room you need to deal with loss. If you have a trusted employee, or a group of experienced people, delegate as many of your responsibilities as possible to free yourself for a time.Remember that some loss of efficiency may be inevitable, which is why carrying insurance through your work, in addition to the other benefits this offers, can help buffer your company through the unavoidable downswing and see it, and you, back up from the dark.

References & Resources

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