Other Difficult News

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Updated March 23, 2023

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For communicating other difficult news (such as deaths, illnesses, leaves of absence, or upsetting public news) to a distributed team, you can use the following guidelines as a start:

  • It’s imperative to talk to anyone directly affected privately first (co-workers close to the affected colleague, team members on the same team, managers or direct reports of the person affected, or people directly affected by political news or traumatic events).

  • Next, share a public announcement of the news with the company. If it’s relevant, this would include details of how to support the person or family, such as meal trains or memorial service details.

  • If you’re supporting a colleague, you can create an optional way for co-workers to share support or grief, like a collection of quotes and messages from fellow employees that can be sent in a card, care package, or as part of condolences to the family.

  • It’s healthy to talk openly about grief, shock or challenges with affected teammates, and as a group. Experts recommend not simply “moving on” to business—it’s best to hold space for emotions. You may need to encourage people to take time away if they need to process difficult news.

  • Grief can take time to manifest. It’s a good idea to proactively check in with people 1–2 months down the road.

important This advice also applies to external or public events that may impact some or all of your team in potentially unexpected ways. Mass shootings, acts of violence against specific communities, natural disasters, and many other public events can leave people on your team processing grief or even potentially dealing with forms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They’ll need similar support from you and the team.

story “When something happens in the world or your community that is scary or traumatic, you can’t all gather around someone’s computer watching the news roll in, so you wonder, ‘Do other people know about this? Are they taking a break? Looks like people are still working, but I don’t feel like I can. Should I pretend I didn’t see the news? Should I interrupt and ask if they did?’” —Rachel Jepsen, Senior Editor, Holloway


As managers, one of our responsibilities is to provide the safest workplace we can to those around us. How do we support our reports in this rapidly changing political environment?Lara Hogan, management coach; co-founder, Wherewithall*

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