Get a Life

By Judith Welles

Blog archive

Get a Life!: A death at work

Even though I didn’t know him, it felt almost like a death in the family when “Meet the Press” moderator and NBC Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert died last week. In my view, the extensive coverage given to him, his life and work by his colleagues at NBC – and by other network reporters – was not just understandable; it was necessary to help his associates grieve and gain closure on such an unexpected event.

Russert was a reporter, and he also headed a staff of reporters covering Washington politics at the White House and on Capitol Hill. He was a manager of news and of people. It was his people side that nearly everyone seemed to remember as the condolences and accolades grew over the weekend.

NBC News reporter Andrea Mitchell called him a mentor and said how much he had taught her. Others commented about how he always asked about their families, especially when he knew a family member had been ill. Clearly, he was not only highly skilled and talented in the news business, but he was also a thoughtful and caring leader to his staff.

I worked for a small agency when one morning the top executive did not come into work as expected. No one knew where he was, and there was no answer at his home. Finally, after a few hours, an associate decided to call the police. It turned out that the executive had died suddenly of cardiac arrest at age 50 at home while his wife was away on a business trip. The entire building seemed to come to a standstill. Many felt numb, both from the shock and from the loss.

Those who worked closest to him turned to the task of how to help agency staff deal with their grief, despite their own, while also continuing agency operations. Several events were held in subsequent days and weeks. Representatives attended the funeral; special memorial occasions were arranged that included humor and song. Management was sensitive to any staff member’s need for flexible work hours or time away. Because the executive was admired and liked, employees were asked to submit ideas for ways to permanently memorialize him. As a result, the agency training center was given his name. The chief management officer for the agency helped the staff through it all.

I admire and congratulate NBC for enabling Tim Russert’s staff to express their loss through their newscasts. When someone’s death jolts a workplace, co-workers need time to adjust, to remember the person and come to grips with and accept the loss.

If you experienced a co-worker's death at your office, how did your company or agency help the employees cope with the loss?

Posted on Jun 18, 2008 at 12:13 PM


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