Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Do I need to attend a funeral for my co-worker’s family member?

Recently I read the following question on twitter:

 A co-worker's family member passed away and a lot of my department is going to the funeral to support her. But I don't want to go. Am I cold?

This employee began working at her company eight months ago and has worked with this person, who is actually her department manager, quite often. She doesn’t do well at funerals, has never met the family member and has SO MUCH STUFF to do at work... plus it's in the middle of a work day. It is a pretty big deal and she is getting pressure to attend.

What should she do?

Initially I suggested she just send a card, but when I mentioned my response to my husband he said I was wrong.

My husband, who is better at etiquette and office politics than I, says she needs to attend. He thinks working with someone for eight months is a sufficient amount of time to establish a relationship. It doesn’t matter that she didn’t know the family member, the purpose of a funeral service is to show support for the living. It appears as though her department plans to attend the funeral as a group to show support for their manager. It would be a good move on the part of this employee to attend as member of her team.

She doesn’t need to stay for the actual service:
From the employee's tweets I think she is considering attending the actual funeral service. She needs to only attend the visitation to express her condolences to her manager and if appropriate her manager’s immediate family. A fifteen minute visit would be sufficient. It is usually customary to view the deceased and if appropriate spend a few moments in silent prayer, but this isn’t mandatory. She should also make sure she signs the guest book. The service itself is usually an intimate ceremony attended by immediate family and close friends.

Since the service occurs during the work day she may need to take time off  without pay to attend. If so, she could stay late or work through her lunch to make up time and catch up with her work.

A few of my husband’s co-workers attended both of his parent's funeral visitations. They didn't stay for more than fifteen minutes. My husband was cognizant of and appreciated those who made an effort to attend.

Last month my manager’s mother passed away. Her funeral service was six hours away. All three of my company’s owners traveled the six hours to attend her visitation. They did not stay for the funeral service which was held the next day. If the visitation had been local, I am sure every person in my department would have attended and that our company would have allowed us to attend without docking our pay.

Instead, individually we sent sympathy cards to our manager’s home and a token memorial in our manager’s mother’s name to the private school where she had taught for many years.

When I was the tweeter's age (I think she is in her early twenties) I probably wouldn’t have wanted to attend either, but now that I am older I realize doing the appropriate thing is more important than our own wishes and conveniences.

What are your thoughts?


  1. I agree with 75% of what you advised. She should definitely go to either the visitation or the funeral. It will mean something to the co-worker, and more importantly she is the the MANAGER. Not to go is almost disrespectful.

    Am intrigued by "she doesn't do well at funerals". I am a crier. I cry at happy times, sad times, stressful times. I am the designated crier at every occasion, so you can imagine how much I hate funerals. I cry way too much at the funerals of people I do not even know. THAT may be this young woman's issue. She still needs to go. Then she needs to not listen, but think of her favorite book, her boyfriend, anything at all except what is going on, so that she does NOT cry too much. Do not listen to the eulogies!

    My slight disagreement with you is that in some places funerals are not mostly for close friends and family. In our area, many more people go to the funeral than to visitation. So, bottom line: go, sign the book, sit in the back and slip out as quickly as possible afterwards.

  2. Savvy, she should go. It's the decent thing to do, and work-wise, it's the strategic thing to do. Because the manager is going to remember who went, and who didn't. She should just go. One afternoon isn't going to set her back with her workload. Since everyone else is going, they'll all be on the same playing field in terms of all falling behind because of a half-day absence. This person clearly is not looking at the bigger picture.

  3. I agree with your husband. I think you show your support by showing up for the visitation. You don't have to stay long, but the act of being there makes a difference to the person grieving.

  4. Webb,
    Thanks for your input – I never thought of regional differences – you are rights funerals are a huge event in other parts of the country especially the south. Thanks for setting me straight- in some areas of the U.S. you do need to attend the service as well. I received a question after writing this post on whether or not an employee’s spouse should attend a co-worker’s funeral. I was afraid to give an opinion so I just said do what you feel is right. Also great tips on how to handle the service when you typically don’t do well at funerals.

  5. Monica,
    I agree she should isn't looking at the bigger picture. Thanks for your comment.

  6. Another Jennifer,
    Thanks for stopping in and sharing your input.

  7. This was good advice. We need to look at the big picture and think long range. We attend funeral services and the visitation as a comfort and support for the living person. Show support by making an appearance and then quietly leaving.

  8. I have been on both sides of this. I have had co-workers have a death in their family and I have not attended. I have sent a card and or money (when it was needed) and not gone to the funeral. Also my dad passed away and some co-workers came and others did not. I was surprised by who came because I was not close to them. But I did not feel in any way slighted by who did not come.

    As a general rule I don't attend funerals. I have only been to 4 including my own fathers.

    I guess for the girl who sent the tweet the most important thing that stood out was the fact that everyone was going. In that case it is probably best to go with the group rather than stand out. Especially if she plans to be in that field for a while.