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What To Do When One Of Your Team Members Passes Away With Sara Makin  

HRH 8 | Team Member Pass Away

Your team members are like your second family. Away from your home life, they are the people you lean on and entrust your business. Unfortunately, inevitable things happen that cut short your relationship with them. One of those is death. In this episode, Andrea Hoffer sits down with Sara Makin, the CEO and founder of Makin Wellness, to talk about what to do when one of your team members passes away. Not taught in business schools, they talk us through the systems we need to have in place and the next course of action to provide the needed help—from supporting those left behind to helping your team members in the process. Plus, Sara then shares some ways business owners can take care of themselves amidst it all.

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What To Do When One Of Your Team Members Passes Away With Sara Makin

We’re going to talk about what I consider a difficult topic. It’s a topic that we never talked about when I went to business school. I rarely hear it even discussed at business seminars and business events. Yet, it’s something that a lot of us as business owners have had to deal with or may have to deal with in the future. What we’re going to talk about is what to do when one of your employees, one of your team members passes away.

Before I introduce our guest who’s an expert on this subject, and I can’t wait to introduce you to her, I want to briefly share why I chose this topic. Many years ago, I owned a fairly busy spa. I had a team of about 35 employees. One of my team members who was covering the closing shift on New Year’s Eve when she was driving to meet her family to celebrate the holidays, a reckless driver hit her and she was killed. It was sad and a lot of emotions came up throughout my team and for me as well. I knew that I needed to be there to support my team through it in the best that I could, but I also needed to think about my business as well. It was a very busy time for my business. It was a time that’s key for making revenue goals. I wasn’t sure the best way to approach everything. The family had suffered a great loss so did my team members. I didn’t know how to be there for them.

That’s one of the reasons I want to talk about this because I’m sure back then, I did the best I could. I may have made some wrong choices, hopefully, I made some good ones as well. We have a guest with us who’s going to help us talk through some of the things that we might face and that we might need to do if we’re faced with this situation as a business owner, as an employer, and as a person. Here with us is Sara Makin, the CEO and Founder of Makin Wellness, the highest-rated online therapists and counselors in Pennsylvania.

Before I bring her on, I want to tell you a little bit about this amazing woman. Since establishing her company in 2017, she’s led Makin Wellness to its position as the state’s fastest growing and privately owned tele-mental health company, achieving rapid growth in mental health utilization. Under her leadership, Makin Wellness has established a proven track record of successfully shaping the mental health market and driving mental health transformation by executing on their mission of helping millions of people heal and become happy again.

Sara Makin has been featured in major media outlets including NBC, ABC, Fox, The CW, International Business Times, the Scientific Journal, and hundreds more media sources internationally. She has been named a Top 100 Healthcare Leader in 2019, and Empowering Women in Philanthropy in 2018. Sara has been on the cover of Inspiring Lives Magazine, Dispense Magazine, Pittsburgh Avenue West and Steel This Magazine. She is nationally recognized as a trailblazer in the virtual mental healthcare field, and two times bestselling author. She is fueled by her relentless desire to improve virtual mental health outcomes and provide the masses with outstanding mental health care. You are quite impressive, Sara. Thank you so much for being with us.

Thank you so much for having me. I’m looking forward to being here and to help your audience with the grief process, and with providing some psychological information that can be helpful for a lot of business owners.

I was wondering could you start off by sharing with us if you’ve seen any increase in workplace-related grief this year due to the pandemic, and how you and your team are addressing this topic?

This has been a huge challenge for a lot of businesses and a lot of business owners. There has been such an increase in stress levels, marital disputes, drug and alcohol usage, and overall a major decline in people’s mental health since COVID started in March of 2020. This will affect the workplace, the productivity of your team, and the efficacy of what they are doing. This is something that we’ve seen a lot of patients struggle with. We know a lot of business owners are also struggling because on the one hand, they want to be able to support their employees during a challenging time. On the other hand, they might not know exactly what they would do in order to successfully do that.

I can relate to that. What advice would you give an employer who has learned that one of their employees has passed away, whether it’s from COVID or from something else?

[bctt tweet=”Business owners, entrepreneurs, and executives sometimes lose sight or forget to take care of themselves first.” via=”no”]

This will go back to what policies and procedures you have in place for that. I’m not an HR specialist to dictate what it should be or what it should not consist of. Something from the psych field that would be helpful is including some form of crisis counseling for your company. I’ve seen some companies do this as a group where they will have a group counselor come and speak with the team. The team all has time and the capability of expressing their emotions and thoughts and feelings around the crisis that occurred. This can be a big bonding moment for the participants in the group counseling session and can boost morale and boost people’s connections to one another. Many times, when tragic events happen or if someone on your team dies or when your company dies, there are a lot of feelings to process. It’s unexpected majority of the time for the team.

Providing that could be an option. You could hire a counselor to physically come into your office to do this. Given the COVID situation that we have right now, there are a lot of states and specific cities and areas that are predominantly working virtually. This type of crisis service could still be done virtually as well. You would want to ensure that the group counselor is aware of how to do this effectively because it is different providing services virtually compared to in person.

The other tip that I would incorporate into policies and procedures would be to offer individual counseling as well. Many employers will offer EAPs or an Employee Assistance Program. If that is the case and you’re already paying for it, sometimes your team would need to be reminded to use it. Many times, it’s between about 4 to 10 free sessions. Afterwards, most of these EAP counselors can continue to be seen on a cash basis or many of them are also networked with insurance companies. That is another option too.

To save money with that, I would highly recommend either referring to a therapist or a clinic that is a network with the EAP and/or referring to places that are in network with the insurance that you offer to your employees, because not every therapist or counselor is a network with all insurance companies. Most of them are only in network with some. That way, you don’t want to accidentally stress out your staff and refer them to a place that doesn’t accept your insurance, and your employees would have to pay a lot of money out of pocket because it can be quite expensive.

I didn’t even think about the cost involved, but it can get pretty exorbitant sometimes. If an employer does have an employee who passes away, how would you recommend or suggest that the business owner or the employer communicates that information or that news to the team? Is there a best method? I understand that with COVID, it limits the ways as far as in-person goes, but do you have a suggestion on methods and even what to say and how to approach it?

This is an important question that you asked because the delivery of challenging news can be made even worse if you delivered it in a modality that either downplays it or just can’t effectively convey how important the message is. That’s important. Anytime there’s a situation where it’s negative or challenging, or it can be confusing, or if you know that there are going to be a lot of questions or a strong emotional reaction, it is always best to do it in person if possible. These times that we’re living in is not how our businesses are run, so that’s understandable.

The next best thing would be if it’s possible to do a group video call. You inform everyone on the team at once starting out with the leadership first so they have a heads up. The way that you would share the information would be up to you. It’s important to section and time to see what other people’s reactions are and to be able to emotionally support them. If you’re able to have a counselor potentially with you or to connect with a counselor or a crisis counselor beforehand, they can share even more advice specifically regarding every situation. I’d hate to give like this is what everyone should do format when every situation and every case is different. It’s different if someone dies from suicide compared to if someone dies accidentally or of natural causes and they were elderly. It’s all very different.

I know that one of the things that I struggled with even in personal circumstances is how to reach out to the family to express your condolences, the timing even. When’s the best timing and how’s the best way to express it? I struggle with that a lot whenever there’s any death around somebody that I know. Particularly as an employer, how do you reach out to your team members’ parents or family after they have passed away? Are you intruding? It was a question for me and I didn’t know how to answer it.

It’s a tough question to answer. It’s all different on a case-by-case scenario. That’s the challenging thing with the field of psychology and mental health. We have to look at things through the individual’s lens and individual relationships lens. Sometimes these things vary drastically. If you were closer with the person and you feel like a gift, a note or flowers is appropriate, then do that. If you weren’t very close with the employee or with the staff or with the family, it’s still a good idea as a leader to send something and to let them know that you’re there for them or whatever it is that you want to communicate. That would be a good idea, but it’s up to you and what you feel most comfortable with. The other thing to consider is that from a multicultural lens, things can be different with death based upon how the person died and what the faith or culture the family has. Some funerals are mandated to occur within a day or a couple of days. It can be challenging too looking at it from that lens. Their funeral is going to happen very quickly and they’re going to be very slammed the first several days and maybe wait a little bit longer.

HRH 8 | Team Member Pass Away

Team Member Pass Away: From a multicultural lens, things can be different from death based on how they died and the faith or culture the family has.

I didn’t even think of that. How do you communicate this to the customers? Often the customers, depending upon the type of business, may know the employee and may notice that they’re no longer there. Is it something that you communicate with the customers or just letting everybody know? Is it a case by case if somebody asks about that person?

That depends on your industry, what it is that you’re doing, and how close the employee was with the customers. You don’t necessarily want to send out a ton of notifications if that employee wasn’t directly involved with the customers. If they were, it could be good to give the customer a heads up and to let them know. If they feel like they want to express their condolences as well, they would be able to so that there’s no confusion. You don’t want them to continually reach out to the person and not get a response, and not be informed as to why.

Another question that I struggled with, because this was a busy time when this happened with my business, was do we close for the funeral so that everybody who wants to go to the funeral can go. I wanted to attend the funeral as well? There are a lot of variables that have to come into play here, but how do you decide whether or not to close? How much time to close and how do we communicate that to our clients of why we’re closing during a time when we wouldn’t typically close?

It’s up to you if you are in an industry where you are able to close. In certain businesses, it’s challenging. I’m thinking specifically for my company. We’re in mental health care. We have to remain open because of the contracts that we have with our insurance companies. We have to have people on staff and available to answer patients in crisis. I know that there are other businesses that aren’t able to close. If you’re not able to close at least doing your best to be flexible with the staff that were close with them that wants to attend, and do everything in your power to make that happen. If you’re able to close and for everyone that was invited to attend, that would be great.

It’s up to you whatever it is that you want to state as your reason why you’re closing publicly. You don’t necessarily have to post about that because the family might not feel very comfortable with you publicly sharing that information as well. It’s different when you speak with someone one-on-one like when we talked about talking with the customers that worked closely with the person, compared to if you’re sharing this information publicly or if you’re sharing it online. That’s another thing to consider. You don’t necessarily have to say why you would be closed for the time being.

One of the things that I would think is important is making sure that the business owner, while that person is trying to support and take care of their team and their business, they also need to take care of themselves. Do you have any suggestions while they’re balancing everything during this difficult time of how they can still take care of themselves so that they can still be productive and function?

That can be something that business owners, entrepreneurs and executives sometimes lose sight, or we forget that we have to take care of ourselves first. If you’re staying up late, a lot of nights you’re not sleeping well. If you’re ordering a lot of takeout, you’re eating unhealthy food or you’re experiencing a significantly higher level of stress, you’re not managing it well. These are not only things that are not good for your health, but it negatively will impact your business. If you’re not sleeping well, your brain is not functioning optimally.

I read a study somewhere that said it’s dangerous as drunk driving to drive when you’re sleep deprived. Forcing yourself to sleep, even if you feel like, “I still need to do this,” and you need to do that is important. If you are in a position within your company where you have a team or where you have a leadership team, it’s important to delegate as much as you possibly can to them and empower them to handle certain things so everything isn’t relying on you.

Another thing with stress reduction is if you start to notice that you’re getting stressed out during the day. It’s constant negative issues coming as a result of this or your staff is very upset. There’s a lot of emotional burden that you’re noticing that you’re taking on, one thing that our team recommends is to do something called diaphragmatic breathing, which is deep belly breathing. It’s a form of breathing that may help to reduce your heart rate and may help to reduce your blood pressure as well. You can google it online. There’s so much information about it or you can check it out on our website at We have videos on how to do it. Implement diaphragmatic breathing every time you start to notice that you’re getting stressed out.

[bctt tweet=”If you’re not sleeping well, your brain is not functioning optimally.” via=”no”]

Forcing yourself whether you want to or not to exercise because that’s one way of getting out a lot of negative emotions. It can help with reducing your stress levels as well. It’s good for your health and you have the dopamine release, as well, which the chemicals that make you feel good. You want to get as much of that as you possibly can naturally without doing negative things to get them. That’s a great way of doing that. Focusing on those couple of things, and if you are getting to a place where that’s not working and you need more assistance, I would recommend seeing a counselor. Sometimes get counselors for the short-term. It’s not always years and years at a time, just to help you with processing through that means a lot.

If your team notices that you aren’t taking care of yourself, they’re not going to take care of themselves either. Whether you realize it or not, they do look up to you because if they didn’t, they would have quit by now. As a strong leader, you have to consider everything that you do. You’re setting an example. Even if you’re doing things you don’t think that people notice, they do notice. You have to ensure that you take care of yourself. If you’re taking care of yourself despite the challenging time, it’s going to be a source of inspiration for your team. They’ll do that and they’ll perform even better too.

That’s excellent advice for year-round no matter if there are additional stressors or not. I didn’t mention I was going to ask you this. I might throw you a little bit but I don’t think so. I’m fascinated by your model of the online therapy. Could you talk to us a little bit about how that works? Do you get the same therapist each time? Is it video or is it voice?

At Makin Wellness, our team consisted of specialized online counselors that help people struggle with mental health, with their addiction issues or with relationship issues. You would see the same counselor throughout the entirety of your treatment at Makin Wellness. We have a nutritionist and sometimes the therapist will work with the nutritionist to help to get you back on track. The way that it works virtually is whenever you call our team. Our team are trained to essentially know who to match up, and what clients to match up with who. We have a whole system in place for that. They’ll ask you a couple of questions and then you’ll get matched with a specialist online counselor. Most of it is covered by insurance as well, which is great. We have partnerships with all the major commercial insurance plans within Pennsylvania at this time.

Do you work outside of Pennsylvania? Do you have clients outside?

We’re only technically able to do coaching outside of Pennsylvania. We’re able to do coaching outside of Pennsylvania, but we’re not able to do counseling unless you are a Pennsylvania resident at this time. Hopefully, regulations and things will change in the future that we will be expanding outside of our state.

Could you touch on the difference between coaching and counseling?

Coaching is quite goal-directed. You would work with the coach to put together an action plan for helping you to meet whatever goals that you may have. The interesting thing with coaching is that there’s zero regulations around it. Someone who is a five-year-old can be a coach, and there are no regulations or board or anything. The good thing with our team is that all of our counselors are Masters levels and up. You’re meeting with someone who has quite an extensive education and knowledge about psychology in general. That can be a very helpful thing.

Counseling is a little bit different. You’re presenting with a major challenge or issue or an ongoing series of issues. It’s more in-depth than coaching is. Think of coaching a bit more as like maintenance. You’ve worked on yourself. You’ve worked on a lot of different things and you’re at a place where you’re feeling good. You have extra goals that you want to meet versus counseling, where you have some challenges that need to be addressed before you can get to that state.

HRH 8 | Team Member Pass Away

Team Member Pass Away: You have to consider what the future of your industry can look like and be prepared when things happen.

The other thing is that insurance doesn’t cover coaching, which makes sense because there are no regulatory bodies or anything behind it to regulate it. Insurance does cover for counseling because it’s research-backed. The counseling at Makin Wellness, our virtual counseling is backed by research and evidence-based, meaning that we’ve done tons and tons of research and data collections, and tons of things that are not very fun to talk about to ensure that what we’re doing is working.

You were doing virtual counseling way before the pandemic hit.

It was interesting too because when we started doing it, there was a little bit of pushback, but some of people that were more established in this industry thought it was weird or thought there’s no research behind this. They thought that you have to see someone in person in order for it to work. COVID happens and then they magically changed their minds so I find it to be funny.

I see that happening in a lot of different industries.

It’s not a good attitude or mentality to have. You have to always keep your mind. Most of your audience are business owners. You have to keep your mind open. You have to consider what the future of your industry can look like and be prepared when things happen. I always knew that virtual counseling and telemedicine was going to become normative. Because of that, I set up my company in a way where it allows for that to happen. Maybe it was a little bit early but to me, it was the perfect timing because we spent the first few years focusing on building the foundation systems and processes.

It does build in to what we’re talking about a little bit because you foresaw where the pandemic took us. I’m assuming you didn’t know there was going to be a pandemic.

No, I’m not that good.

What I’m seeing as I talked to more and more business owners especially is that every place the pandemic has brought us when it comes to different industries, we were going there. Whether it was in the next 5 or 10 years, the pandemic just accelerated us. It’s true for your industry as well. Before I ask you about how somebody can get in touch with you, I first want to ask, is there anything that we haven’t talked about related to grief in the workplace that you feel that we should touch on before we wrap up?

I have one brief thing that I wanted to share pertaining to that. When we experience grief, trauma, negative or challenging circumstances in our lives, the “push it down, don’t talk about it or the don’t think about it now” approach or the bottling approach does not work well. It’s never worked well. When you try to suppress trauma or grief, it’s always going to come back up. Don’t use alcohol to numb it. Don’t try to distract yourself by working 80-hour weeks. Talk about how you feel, talk about your thoughts and feelings, meet with a virtual counselor, process that so you can heal and move forward and not be bogged down by a lot of grief unnecessarily. There’s so much positive that can come out of processing these things and not holding onto them. It’s more painful the longer you wait. That’s the number one advice that I would give especially if you’re struggling with it or if you see one of your staff struggling with it. Let them know you care about them and this would be good for them. Refer them to a place that you trust. That’s what I would highly recommend.

[bctt tweet=”If your team notices that you aren’t taking care of yourself, they’re not going to take care of themselves either.  ” via=”no”]

That’s an excellent advice because we often do look for a quick remedy and something that’s going to distract us from something that we need to deal with. For our readers out there, how can they get in touch with you, Sara?

They can follow us online. If you enter Makin Wellness in Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest or LinkedIn, you’ll be able to find our pages and follow us that way. If you’re at a place where you’re ready to make a change or perhaps you’ve gone through a challenging situation or circumstance and you’re ready to heal and become happy again, give our team a call at 833-274-HEAL. Our team will be able to match you up with a specialized online counselor that will help you.

Thank you so much, Sara, for being here with us. You are a wealth of knowledge. You’re such a pleasure to speak with. We appreciate your expertise in this area. I’ve enjoyed speaking with you.

Thank you so much for having me on. I know this is not the easiest thing to talk about, but this is important stuff. We do need to communicate and talk about this because everyone dies. This is going to be a situation that eventually you’ll probably have to deal with them as a business owner. Having some information beforehand is important. Thank you for getting this valuable information out there. I know it’s going to help a lot of people.

Thank you to everyone for joining us. Please stay safe and happy. Have a great day.

Important Links:

About Sara Makin

HRH 8 | Team Member Pass Away? Start healing today at or call us at 833-274-HEAL


Our #1 rated Makin Wellness team help professionals and young adults struggling with mental health , addiction and relationship challenges heal & become happy again through research backed online counseling .


– We can help you manage your depression
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– & much , much more!


Anyone 18 – 45 years old struggling emotionally & is ready to actively participate in online therapy!


I’m a passionate social entrepreneur with 10 years of success in the mental health industry . I founded & lead our team at Makin Wellness and authored two #1 best selling books on Amazon.


If you are a LCSW or LPC (Pennsylvania) that supports our mission of helping people heal and become happy again by providing excellent client care , then send us your resume and bio to our amazing Clinical Supervisor Rahmah :

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