Poll: No single way to communicate sad news of an employee death

A Ragan poll of communicators finds that telling the staff about a colleague’s passing doesn’t—and shouldn’t—fit a template; for sensitivity, it must be situational.

It’s been a tough 15 months at MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas. Since January 2010, 31 employees have died.

It’s gotten to the point where the communications team’s reports on each death—short pieces posted to the intranet—have prompted negative feedback from employees, says Megan Maisel, associate director of internal communications. “They feel like it’s demoralizing,” she says.

The cancer center’s communications team is taking a step back to determine whether there might be a better way to honor passed-on employees without depressing the 17,000-member staff. Like many organizations, big and small, deciding how and where to broach the topic isn’t easy.

A Ragan.com LinkedIn poll of more than 200 communicators found the largest group, about 40 percent, prefers to talk about employee deaths in face-to-face meetings. The next-largest group, about one-fourth, said they don’t announce employee deaths. About 20 percent said they use online publications, 9 percent opt for print publications, and 6 percent go for social media outlets or blogs.

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