It can be upsetting and potentially triggering to read about suicide. In the event that you’re feeling vulnerable at the moment, you might want to consider reading this content at a time when you don’t feel distressed.
The information and self-help support provided in this series is not a substitute for seeking medical assistance and advice if required. If you are having thoughts of suicide, please seek professional assistance urgently. You can contact the emergency services on 999 if you feel unable to keep yourself safe, and your local A&E will also be able to provide you with help.

Alternatively, the Samaritans are also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 116 123.

informal chat taking place between colleagues in a office

The suicide of a colleague will always have a profound emotional effect on everyone in your team even if that person hadn’t been with your organisation for long or well known by many. We spend much of our time at work, and some of us spend more time with our colleagues than we do with our closest friends and family members. But even if you don’t develop a friendship with a particular colleague, you most certainly have something in common with each other. It could be the role you perform, the manager you report to, or the customers you serve.

Every suicide leaves people with unanswered questions. Some people may experience feelings of guilt, anger and sadness all at once. Some of us are also likely to feel quite vulnerable, as if the world we knew no longer exists and nothing makes sense. It’s important therefore that colleagues support each other in the first few weeks and months after the death.

“My colleague Ben took his life last year. The day we heard the news, we were all told to sit in a meeting room. We knew something bad had happened but we assumed it was about work, so when his death was announced by one of the directors it was a bolt out of the blue. This person told the group that it’d be best never to mention Ben again. We were very much discouraged from talking about it. That emotionally messed the team up for quite some time.

It was like Ben’s death was so shameful that it couldn’t be spoken of. I was really angry at that director and a few months later, I asked him why he’d told us not to talk about Ben. He just looked at me and said that suicide is selfish and Ben shouldn’t be rewarded with sympathy. I left that company shortly after.”

- Monique, Liverpool

 

Your role as a colleague

  • Don’t bottle up your feelings. Any death by suicide is shocking and life-changing so it’s really important that you can share your thoughts with colleagues, close friends and family. You may find that you need to talk about it quite a lot at first – this is normal and can help you to process the event. Do keep in mind however that you might want to seek support if the suicide is affecting your sleep, daily routines, or other area of your wellbeing.
  • If you’re struggling, call retailTRUST on 0808 801 0808 and speak with one of our team in confidence. Sometimes just talking through your feelings with someone you don’t know can help ease the enormity of what you’ve experienced.
  • Read our other articles which look at grief, self-care, and other areas of wellbeing.
  • Recognise that your colleague’s suicide may bring up memories of past losses, and sometimes very unexpectedly. Whether you’ve been bereaved before, or have experienced the end of a relationship, you might find that you experience feelings of grief related to the earlier experiences as well as those connected to the death of your colleague. It’s important to share your feelings with someone you trust and this could include a retailTRUST counsellor, your GP, or close friend or family member.
  • Guilt is a very natural response to suicide but is ultimately unhelpful. There is no need to feel guilty – your colleague’s death was not your fault. He or she died by suicide for many different reasons and these are unlikely to ever be known to you.

“Before Katy left work that day, she made a point of asking me to look after the plants on her desk. I didn’t think much of it, I just said, ‘yes, of course’. That was a Friday and when I got to work on the Monday, I learned that she’d taken her life at the weekend. I think for me, there was a lot of guilt. Like, if I’d asked her why she needed me to look after her plants, maybe she would have told me about her plans. One of the hardest parts about losing someone to suicide is the questioning why they chose to die, and what you could have done to stop it, if anything.”

- Keiran, London

 

Your role as a manager

  • As soon as your organisation is made aware of a suicide, agree who in the business will determine how and when the news is shared. There should be a consistent approach in place so that all shifts receive the news in the same way, and that the same support is offered to each colleague. The amount of detail you share about the death with colleagues is especially important if the suicide was reported in the media. If you don’t know the details, acknowledge that. If you do, don’t overshare as ‘too much too soon’ can pose problems for some people who may already be struggling with things in their own lives. And always ensure that you don’t discuss the method by which the colleague died. This is unsafe and unnecessary.
  • Managers play a pivotal role in setting the tone for how the rest of the workplace will respond to a colleague’s death by suicide. The first step to take after hearing the news is to contact retailTRUST and speak to a counsellor to get support in place for anyone who has been affected. You might also find this article on managing a critical incident helpful.
  • Be prepared that customers may ask about your colleague’s death. It’s therefore critical to agree with HR what the response will be and share this with colleagues. Supposition, hearsay and misinformation is something to be avoided.
  • Do not shut conversations amongst colleagues down. There is nothing ‘morbid’ about talking about suicide. In fact, ignoring its reality may cause people to hide their feelings or see the suicide as a source of shame.
  • You may encounter colleagues who don’t want to talk about the death of their colleague, and that’s absolutely fine – you don’t want to force the discussion on anyone. But a gentle reminder of what support if available to them if they need it will be helpful. Therefore, all team members should be told of our services and how we can help.
  • The line manager of the person who has died by suicide should contact the surviving family with a condolence card. HR can forward this on to the bereaved on your behalf. Your colleague was a part of your organisation and it’s important that the family is not met with silence. Death by suicide is no different than death by any other means and condolences should always be offered.
  • Ensure that your team members have registered on this site. We have a lot of helpful articles on grief and loss as well as a wide range of wellbeing-related guidance.
  • Encourage teams to remember their colleague in their own way. Some people might feel that a fundraiser would be a suitable way to honour the colleague’s death after a certain period of time, while others might prefer meeting for a drink or a meal to remember their colleague. Whatever is decided, participate if you’re able.
  • Check in with team members on a regular basis. This is not to say that you need to specifically ask how they’re coping with the loss of their colleague but you might find that people will feel more confident disclosing their struggles to you when it becomes a normal, even expected, part of conversation.
  • Guilt is very common after a suicide, so do encourage team members to address these feelings if they share them with you. However, don’t overextend yourself by becoming a quasi-grief counsellor. Your job is to signpost colleagues who need support – not to provide that support. There is no need to feel guilty – the colleague’s death was not your fault, nor the fault of your team members. The person died by suicide for many reasons and most will never be known to you, and a counsellor will be able to help colleagues to explore these, and other difficult feelings.

Additional resources which you may find helpful:

Coping with loss and bereavement