Respect and sensitivity are key to ensuring an employee's successful return to work after a suicide attempt. An effective workplace response to a death by suicide or an attempted suicide includes addressing the impact on co-workers.
Responding to suicide in the workplace
If an employee has died by or attempted suicide at work:
- Follow existing crisis response procedures.
- Ensure that nothing is touched at the scene of the suicide
- Immediately contact 911 (emergency services).
- Provide prompt, accurate information to co-workers, refraining from discussing sensational details of the suicide or suicide attempt
- Defuse anxiety and reduce stigma by framing the suicidal act as a way of coping with significant, unbearable problems and emotional pain
Workplace support after a suicide
When a co-worker dies by or attempts suicide, there can be overwhelming feelings of guilt and grief, even by those who may not have been close to the employee. Employers should consider the impacts to the overall psychological health and safety of the workplace related to the suicide.
- Give co-workers the option of attending any funeral or memorial service.
- Watch for co-worker reactions and if appropriate, launch an overall response to support all co-workers who have been impacted.
- Ensure that co-workers are managing their grief and feelings and provide help if they are not.
- Understand that reaction to a suicide will vary significantly. Some employees who may not have even known the deceased may be overcome with emotion, while others who were close to the employee may appear to be unaffected.
- Recognize that managers may also have feelings of guilt and grief related to the suicide death or attempt and should be supported.
- Ensure there is appropriate support in place for staff members who have been impacted, e.g. Employee Assistance Programs, funeral homes or community mental health agencies.
- Provide education. Being aware of the complexities of suicide can help co-workers accept there may not have been anything they could have done to prevent the suicide. See Preventing Suicide: A Resource at Work.
- If possible, determine if anything in the workplace may have been a factor. Take steps to address those factors.
- Involve interested employees in organizing a tribute to the deceased employee. This can help with healing.
Supporting return to work after a suicide attempt
Returning to work may be as difficult for managers and co-workers as it is for the individual, particularly if the suicide attempt took place at the workplace. An employee may be concerned about returning to work after a suicide attempt, fearing what their colleagues will think about them.
The re-integration of an employee after a suicidal crisis should be facilitated with respect and sensitivity. (Samra, 2007)
- Consider using Developing employee plans for leaders to support the returning employee in developing a strategy to return to work successfully. This plan should also include a discussion about how to address co-worker reactions.
- Where appropriate, see also Accommodation strategies. It includes A tool to support employee success, which is a tool that can help facilitate a conversation with the employee regarding their abilities related to job expectations.
Suicide Prevention in Workplaces. Use this guide to navigate those difficult conversations. It offers information for your own mental health and for employers, managers, and co-workers, along with tips for those who work with the public.
Trauma in organizations. Information and strategies to help prepare leaders and employees to respond to potentially traumatic incidents. This can help prevent or reduce the resulting negative effect on psychological health and safety.
Suicide Prevention: How to help someone who is suicidal and save a life. Comprehensive resource featuring suicide warning signs and tips on how to offer help and support. Information courtesy of Helpguide.org.
Suicide risk assessment toolkit. This toolkit from the Mental Health Commission of Canada is designed to be a quick, informative resource for health-care workers and organizations. Use it to compare tools and make the right choice to complement your assessment process.