when your boss dies

A reader writes:

I work in a mid-size company of about 100 employees. My department is very small, just me, my boss, and a part-time consultant. My boss died very unexpectedly this past weekend. I was given a mental health day to recover, but I don’t know what happens now. The CEO and VP are out of the office for the rest of the week, presumably to deal with his death, so I’m rudderless. I tried searching the Internet for other people’s experiences, but I can’t find any good advice.

There’s been no talk of hiring a replacement, but it’s only been a few days. I’m worried about my employment, if they’ll decide to simply cut the department or try to promote me into his position (which I do NOT want). What do I do if they try to load me down with his work (which is enormous)? Or try to edge me out of the company? I was looking for other work before this incident, but now I feel like I have to stay at least a month to help them get back on their feet. But after that, I don’t know what to do.

I’m so sorry. How awful. And I’m sure it doesn’t help that amid dealing with the death of someone you probably saw every day, you’re also facing these major questions about what this means for your job.

So next week, talk to your boss’s boss. Ask what is likely to happen next. She may not have answers yet, but you can at least talk to her about what she’s thinking.

Also, know that the most likely thing is that they’ll hire a replacement, not cut the department; decisions to cut departments are generally made for strategic or financial reasons, not because someone leaves or dies.

If they ask you to take on your boss’s position, it’s fine to turn it down.

They will probably try to give you some of his work in the interim period before they hire a replacement. This is pretty normal, and you should do what you can to help out — but you should also set boundaries. You can’t do two jobs, and you should resist any efforts to try to get you to. And you’re in a pretty strong position to push back — if you leave right now, they’ll be left with two holes instead of one.

And speaking of leaving, you don’t need to halt your job search. You say you feel you should stay for at least a month, but unless you get a job offer tomorrow, that’s probably going to happen anyway; job searches take a while, and you’ll give at least two weeks notice when you do take a new job … so the only way this will be an issue is if you get an offer in the next week or so.

Meanwhile, though, the best thing you can do is to talk to your boss’s boss when she’s back. That’s going to give you a lot of answers to things that are looming as huge questions in your head right now.

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