Returning to work after bereavement

June 12, 2020

After the death of a loved one, returning to work after compassionate leave can sometimes feel like the last thing you want to do. Whilst some may see returning to their job as a lifeline to help them cope and return to normality with a regular routine, others may be filled with dread, not knowing how they are going to handle it.  Here we go through some of the ways you can help cope with returning to work after a bereavement. 

Discuss your options with your management  

Speak to your management or HR before returning to work. Speak to them honestly about how you are feeling and discuss the options available. Are you able to return to your normal hours and duties or would a phased and gradual return be more beneficial?  Hopefully, your work will be sympathetic and flexible. Also, discuss with them how you would like co-workers to behave around you. You may want colleagues to ignore the topic completely and not mention the death of your loved on. Alternatively, you may want them to feel like they can discuss it with you. This decision is ultimately down to you and if you let your HR department know your wishes in advance, they can pass this onto your colleagues before your return. 

Prepare for small talk 

Workplaces are full of small talk, however, after the death of a loved one, you may be dreading this.  Try and prepare yourself for people asking “how are you?” or “what have you been up to?” These are extremely normal, everyday questions that can suddenly become difficult to answer. If you think you will find it tough for something to say, prepare some vague standard answers for you to turn to if you are struggling to answer. This can help avoid any awkward silences. A simple option is to turn the conversation topics around to them and start asking them questions instead. This can help if you do not feel up to discussing personal, non-work related matters. 

Have somewhere quiet to go  

Workplaces can be busy and stressful environments. This constant noise and activity can sometimes be overwhelming. If you feel like you need a moment to yourself, discover a place where you can go to be by yourself. There may be an empty meeting room, a quiet staff room, or even staff toilets where you can retreat. If this is not possible, try and go outside for some fresh air. Discuss your options with your management or HR team as they may be able to talk through the options with you. 

Allow yourself to make mistakes  

No one likes making mistakes at work but they are inevitable. At the end of the day, we are human and we all make mistakes. Errors can occur more regularly if you are thinking of something else and the death of your loved one will understandably be taking up a lot of your thoughts. Therefore, if you find yourself making mistakes, try not to panic. You and your manager should not expect you to be able to produce the same amount of work at the same high quality whilst you are still grieving. Forgive yourself for the mistakes and move forward as dwelling on them will not help and can make you feel demotivated and more stressed. If the mistakes continue, ensure you discuss your concerns with HR as soon as possible. They are there to help you. 

Create a structure 

So many elements in our lives are unpredictable, including losing someone close to us and our grieving process. One thing you can try and control is your workload and how you tackle your work. Try and create yourself a routine and stick to it. Use to-do lists and organisers as much as possible. Doing this helps get everything you need to do out of your head, freeing up more space to concentrate. Having a list can help give you a bigger sense of achievement and helps break down projects into smaller, more manageable chunks. Also, ensure you book in regular breaks to help you stay focused and not overdo it. 

Communicate regularly  

Your emotions will inevitably change at work. Some days you may feel great and in control, whereas others may be feeling extremely vulnerable. During the transition back to your work, you must have regular catch-ups with your manager and HR. They need to ensure you are coping and help you wherever possible. They will not be able to help you if you are not honest with how you feel so try and be as open as you feel comfortable doing. 

Returning to work after bereavement can be tough and filled with mixed emotions. One moment you may feel really positive about returning to your work as it gives you something to focus on. However, you may still have those moments of panic. Whatever emotion you are feeling during this time is normal. The important thing is to ensure you communicate with your colleagues and management about how you are feeling and understand that it may take some time for you to feel like its normal to be back at work. You just need to be patient and take care of yourself during the transition back to work.