SAS blog gives employees a place to grieve

Company launches blog to inform work force about co-worker deaths.

Company launches blog to inform work force about co-worker deaths

When Eve Carson, student body president at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was killed in March, the school set up a blog to allow the community to offer its condolences and seek comfort online.

The huge outpouring of sentiment inspired the communications team at SAS, a software company located just 20 miles from the UNC campus, to develop a blog for employees to grieve lost co-workers.

“We thought this could be a beautiful thing internally,” said Becky Graebe, managing editor of SAS’s intranet.

Unfortunately the project was put to the test in March when a 49-year-old SAS employee died unexpectedly. The blog helped employees deal with the grief and shock.

“The time and situation seemed right to introduce this new method of sharing memories and condolences as a way of fostering a sense of support and community,” Graebe said.

A sense of community

Prior to the blog’s launch, SAS communicators notified employees of a co-worker’s death via e-mail. They used quotes from the late employee’s manager and a few colleagues to write a short memory piece to include in the e-mail.

“We discovered that there were so many special memories and condolences that they would respond back to internal communications and say, ‘If you get a chance, would you share this with the family?’ ” Graebe said.

The blog helped solve that problem.

Using Serendipity, SAS’s existing blog platform, communicators create a blog entry when an employee passes away, and e-mail employees a link to the blog. The blog contains a form for workers to submit comments to “share a special memory or express your sympathy.”

In June, the blog drew more than 75 comments about a 70-year-old receptionist who “loved working at SAS,” according to her manager.

Other employees posted thoughts about the “delightful woman” who “called me by name the very first day I came to SAS,” even though “I wasn’t wearing a name tag.”

Blog comments are monitored by the internal communications team; when an employee posts a comment, communicators receive a copy of the comment.

“This would allow us to immediately remove a post if it were in poor taste, if it could be upsetting to the family or if an employee were to use the forum for a purpose outside of the original intent,” Graebe said.

Once the blog had been up for a few weeks, her manager printed out all the notes and memories to send to her family, Graebe said.

Graebe’s team determines when a blog is taken down and posts are not archived.

The blog, used three times since the March launch, has proven to be an effective communication tool. Says Graebe, “It’s a virtual place where employees can gather to share their love for an individual. It’s a sense of community building.”

In good and bad times

SAS communicators recommend blogs as a way for employees to express themselves in times of sadness or joy.

When a 25-year veteran retired in June, the communications team used an internal blog to allow the community to wish him well.

“This is a unique way of using the blogging technology for another internal communications purpose,” said Becky Graebe, managing editor of SAS’s intranet.

The blog, complete with a photo and short story about his SAS career, went up about a week before his scheduled departure.

The team sent an e-mail to the SAS community announcing the employee’s retirement. The e-mail included a link to the blog where employees could post a special memory or leave a note of congratulations.

“After 25 years I guess you earned the right to ‘take a sabbatical and pursue outdoor hobbies,'” wrote an employee. Another commenter wrote “it’s been a pleasure working with you and good luck to you in retirement.”

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