Working in grief: dealing with your return to work after loss

There is no easy way to return to “normal” after experiencing a devastating loss. Your feelings are raw and you may have confused emotions ranging from anger to silent disbelief. It is very important that you give yourself time to grieve.

However, returning to work isn't something you can avoid for as long as you want. Returning to work while still processing your emotions and healing is something that is not easily achieved and it is very important to get all the help you can from friends, colleagues and even your manager.

Your colleagues may avoid you for fear of saying the wrong thing. Some may even act as if nothing happened, but only because they don't want to bring additional pain into your life, but remember that everyone deals with grief differently.

Experiences you might have

  • Overconfidence (feeling like you're doing well when you're not), which leads to poor decision-making.
  • Reduced morale and motivation.
  • Concentration problems, which can lead to mistakes.
  • Difficulty controlling your emotions can overwhelm your ability to work.

Having control while working is very important. Staying busy at work can reinforce the idea of ​​a comforting constant in a turbulent time.

Here are 5 simple steps to help you with your healing process

  • To communicate
  • Ask for support
  • Organizational policies
  • Concentrate and organize
  • A challenge

Communication with your manager is essential

The first thing you should do when returning to work after a loss or the end of a relationship is to talk to your manager. Whether you decide to do this in person, via email, or over the phone doesn't matter, as long as you do it. Let them know what happened and let them know what you need. You may need time off to make appointments and spend time with your family, for example. Let your manager know if there is something at work that requires immediate attention. Include a date when you will return to work and let them know how to reach you.

Support from colleagues

It is up to you whether you want to let your colleagues know more about your current situation. However, keep in mind that most of your colleagues can be a welcome source of strength and willing support. Some of your colleagues may feel unsure about how to respond to grief and may not know how to behave around you. They may be unwilling to ask how you are doing, to avoid upsetting you. If they ask, just be honest. Simply saying, “I'm not feeling well right now,” can show that you need support.

Organizational policies

Ask the HR department what your organization's policy is. Many employers offer a form of care leave in the event of the death of a close family member or an important relationship. The main idea is to give yourself time to grieve and not rush to get back to work.

Concentrate and organize

Keep your mind occupied with small tasks like eating well, watering plants, and tidying your desk. Work demands attention, but sadness can be distracting. Write everything down and create a To-Do list for daily tasks, meetings and deadlines.

Find a safe haven to retreat to when you are suddenly overwhelmed by your emotions and need a moment to process and maybe even cry. It could be your car, a stairwell, an empty office or a patch of grass behind the office building.

The challenge

There's nothing harder than having to move on when you're not ready. Returning to work will be a huge challenge and it could be exactly what you need most.

Remember not to feel ashamed about asking for help when you find yourself in need. After all, we are all human. Take advantage of all the support offered to you.


Carole Spiers

Carole is the CEO of a leading UK stress management and wellbeing consultancy. She is a BBC guest broadcaster and author of Show Stress Who's Boss! Carole is an international Motivational Speaker and is regularly asked for commentary by the national press and media. She is president of the International Stress Management Association [UK]founder of Stress Awareness Day, Fellow and former President of the Professional Speaking Association, London. www.carolespiers.co.uk

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