Working Through Grief:  managing your return to work after loss

There is no easy way to return to “normal” after you have gone through a devastating loss. Your feelings are raw and you may have confused emotions ranging from anger to quiet disbelief and allowing yourself time to grieve is very important.

However, returning to work is not something you can avoid for as long as you might like. Going back to work while still processing your emotions and healing is something that is not easily achieved and getting all the help you can get from friends, colleagues and even your manager is very important.

Your colleagues may avoid you for fear of saying the wrong thing. Some might even act as if nothing has happened but only because they do not want to bring extra pain to your life but remember that everyone deals with grief differently.

Experiences you Might Have

  • Overconfidence (feeling you’re fine when you’re not), leading to poor decision making.
  • Reduced morale and motivation.
  • Concentration problems, which can lead to mistakes.
  • Difficulties in controlling your emotions can overwhelm your ability to work.

Being in control while at work is very important. Keeping busy at work can reinforce the idea of a reassuring constant during a turbulent time.

Here are 5 Easy Steps to Help You With your Healing Process

  • Communicate
  • Ask for support
  • Organisational policy
  • Concentrate and organize
  • A Challenge

Communication With Your Manager Is Key

The first thing to do when getting back to work after a loss or the termination of a relationship would be to talk to your manager. Whether you decide to do this in person, via email or over the phone is irrelevant as long as you do it. Let them know what has happened and let them know what you need. You might need time off to make arrangements and to be with your family for example. Let your manager know if there is anything at work that requires attention immediately. Include a date of return to work and let them know how to reach you.

Support From Colleagues

It is up to you if you wish 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 might feel unsure about how to respond to grief and they might not know how to act around you. They might not be willing to ask how you are to avoid upsetting you. If they do ask, just be honest. Just saying, “I’m not feeling good right now,” can show them that you need support.

Organisational Policy

Ask the HR department what your organisation’s policy is. Many employers will provide a form of compassionate leave for the death of a close family member or for a significant relationship. The main idea is to allow yourself time to grieve and not to rush back to work.

Concentrate and Organise

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

Find yourself a safe haven where you can retreat to if you find yourself 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 is nothing more difficult than having to move on when you aren’t ready. Returning to work will be an enormous challenge and it also might just be the thing you need most.

Remember to not feel embarrassed about asking for help when you find yourself in need. After all, we are all human. Take advantage of all the support that is given 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 called upon by the national press and media for comment. She is Chair of the International Stress Management Association [UK], founder of Stress Awareness Day, Fellow and Past President of the Professional Speaking Association, London.

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