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How to Clean Out the Desk of Your Deceased Employee

Updated: Oct 19, 2023

The death of an employee is hard. Going through their desk will add to the heartbreak but can support your and your team's grieving process. Here is how to do it.

When my husband died, I had wanted to clean out his office. I wanted to touch the things he touched at work when he was his work self.

There wasn't any rationalization to it. It was a need I had.

As it turned out, someone (or several others) did the job for me. At first, I was mad, but later in my grief journey, I knew that they needed to clean out his office as part of their grief journey.

When an employee dies, computers must be collected, and desks must be cleaned out.

And it sucks.

Here are a few things to consider before you clear out everything!

1. Check with HR and/or legal to ensure you follow all necessary procedures, if any.

2. Make a plan and communicate it to your team. Many organizations make the big mistake of completely clearing out a person's desk immediately after the death. Consider NOT cleaning out their desk for a few days. Nothing is worse than seeing someone wiped from the office memory quickly after death. It can be disheartening and may be viewed as insensitive.

3. Don't clear out the desk alone, but do go through it quickly and gather sensitive items. Then, ask the team if they would like to do it with you. Even if they don't accept, they will appreciate your thinking about them.

4. Check-in with the family. Tell them when you will clear out their person's desk and how you will get their person's items to them.

5. Bring tissues. You can try to prepare yourself, but that's a fool's errand. Be prepared to cry. No one knows how they will react until they are doing the thing.

6. Assume NOTHING. Don't discard anything that isn't company property. That sticky note in their handwriting might be a keepsake for the family.

7. Inventory and Document - Create an inventory of the desk's contents. Document any valuable items, personal effects, or company property. Ensure all items are handled and accounted for properly. Be sure to document who cleaned out the desk with you.

8. Pack their belongings carefully. It's meaningful when the family receives a box of their loved ones' belongings so clearly handled with care.

If the employee worked from home, here are a few tips.

1. Call the family and arrange a time to pick up the company equipment and papers. Let them know what time you will be there.

2. Do it quickly. This is the opposite of the advice from above. But since it is company property, you don't want it staying in the home.

3. Send someone who KNEW the employee and PREPARE them with what to say. (ie. Don't say this, say this.) Nothing is worse than having someone in your home from your dead person's workplace who doesn't have any connection to your person. They are gathering up items that your person touched and used. They should feel connected in some way.

Look, just because it belongs to the company doesn't mean you have to be cruel about getting it back!

This is a challenging and emotional task. Handling it with empathy and care is essential to support the grieving process of your team, colleagues, and yourself.

Are you trying to manage the ramifications of death on your team? Let's have a conversation. It's not meant for you to do it alone. Click here to start a conversation.

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