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Dealing with the loss of a staff member

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Patricia Kanguzu

In the past couple of weeks at Uganda Breweries, we faced the heart-wrenching loss of two beloved figures - my predecessor, Evans Mutai, and our former Board Chair, Dr Martin Aliker. It was a heavy burden for us to bear and also a moment to reflect on how our shared values as a business keep us connected as one. In the aftermath of this difficult time, I would like to share the lessons and insights we have gained, and my views on how a company can provide solace and assistance during such challenging times.

Memorialising a deceased staff member is good place to start. It is a way of providing a sense of closure and honouring their memory in a meaningful way. Such a memorial can include a memorial service, coffee book publication with pictorial memories, planting a tree, or dedicating a plaque in their honour. When staff take time off to pay tribute to their deceased colleagues, it helps them feel connected and valued both when they are alive and when they are gone.

Losing a loved one, and the logistics involved, have a financial impact. Additionally, death often comes unexpectedly, leaving family and friends exposed to financial burdens. Group Life Assurance really comes in handy here, mitigating the financial impact of the unexpected loss. It is important for everyone with a life cover to ensure that they have updated their beneficiary nominees. This ensures that the administration of the policy is smooth and efficient and that the benefit goes to the intended recipients.

In several organisations, HR teams have established welfare funds that offer either voluntary or mandatory savings by employees. Some of these programmes even extend to other family members, including parents and parents-in-law.

According to the Uganda Counselling Association and the Ministry of Health, an estimated 14 million Ugandans suffer from a form of mental disorder, meaning that 35 out of 100 Ugandans you meet are battling a mental health problem.

While depression, unemployment, and diagnosed medical conditions contribute to these high numbers, experts suggest that the loss of loved ones can also act as a trigger. These statistics highlight the crucial need for counselling services, especially during tough times such as grieving a loved one. Failing to get help in such situations can lead to depression.

Replacing a colleague who has departed can be a daunting task for any organisation. While it is important to maintain business continuity by filling the vacancy as soon as possible, it is equally crucial to handle the process with sensitivity and care to avoid any negative impact on the colleagues left behind. Rushing the replacement process can create an impression of indifference towards the departed employee’s contribution and value, and can lead to doubts among the remaining staff about their own worth. To maintain a respectful workplace environment, it is important to allow an appropriate period of mourning and communicate the internal process transparently with the staff, so that they feel involved and reassured.

Organisations need to understand that the loss of a staff member can have a lasting impact beyond the initial grieving period. It is essential for businesses to offer long-term support to employees to help them process their loss and cope with the aftermath. Failure to provide such support can lead to a lose-lose situation where productivity is affected.

Recognising the ongoing impact of a loss and acknowledging the value of the individual who passed away can have a unifying effect on organisations. By doing so, employees can move forward while still carrying the memory of their co-worker with them, fostering a sense of solidarity and togetherness.

Ms Patricia Kadama Anguzu  is  the Human Resource Director, UBL.