Going Back to Work After Bereavement

After the loss of a loved one, the thought of returning to work can be difficult. While some people may crave the return to a routine to help them through their grief, others may feel overwhelmed when thinking about the return to work.

The return to work is challenging for several reasons. Sometimes you may have to return before you feel ready. While there is no legal right to paid time off for bereavement, ACAS explains that employees have to be given a ‘reasonable’ amount of time off work. Thankfully, most employers will comply with this. The return to work can also feel frightening because you do not know how people will treat you or how they will react. We want to think that all employers, managers, and co-workers are understanding when it comes to bereavement. Unfortunately, this is sometimes not the case. However, the vast majority of people will be understanding and empathetic if they know you are grieving. The thought of returning to a heavy workload may also make you feel overwhelmed and stressed.

We want to help you return to work. As a result, we’ve listed a few tips that will help you cope.

Expect that some colleagues will not react how you want them to.

Death is a difficult concept for people to deal with. People will react differently; some may act as if nothing has happened, others may offer public or private condolences, and some people may even ask questions that may seem inappropriate. Most of the time, they mean well. Understand that some people may not know how you want them to react.

Ask for help if you need it.

If you are struggling with your workload on your return, talk to your manager. Take them aside and explain that you are struggling and come up with a plan of action together. Your manager may offer to help, or they might delegate some of your work to an available co-worker. It may feel like an uncomfortable conversation, but don’t suffer in silence, help is available. If possible, arrange a plan with your manager before you return to work. Consider what adjustments might need to be made, such as a phased return to work or a temporary change of duties.

Talk to a trusted colleague.

If you feel comfortable doing so, talk to a trusted colleague about your loss. Talking is a useful tool which helps people process grief, and having a friend to talk to at work might help you cope. You can also use a trusted colleague as an intermediary between yourself and other colleagues. If you make your wishes known to them, they can communicate with the rest of the office about how you want to address the situation.

Find a safe space.

When you are back at work, you may have moments where you feel overwhelmed or that you need some privacy for a few minutes to compose yourself. Even if you think you won’t need it, having a space in mind where you can go to be alone will make you feel more comfortable about going to work.

Lastly, don’t be too hard on yourself.

Bereavement is hard to cope with, and juggling work and the effects of grief is tough. You may make mistakes due to stress, grief, and a lack of concentration, but that is OK. Mistakes happen. You won’t be performing at the same level as you were before taking bereavement leave, and your manager should understand that. Understandably, work will be more difficult for a while. But be kind to yourself.


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