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December 5 2022
Though everybody will experience grief and loss at some point in their life, it doesn’t make it any less painful. Even with the support of loved ones, grief can still take its toll on many areas, including work. Despite this, there continues to be a lack of real support in the workplace for those facing grief with a particular downfall in employee wellness and engagement.
In every industry, grief can affect employees. From teaching children in school to incidents and accidents that take place in the field of construction, grief is a universal experience. Thankfully, there are many ways in which you can seek support if you are experiencing grief and loss at work. Through the help of charities such as Lighthouse Club, who offer ongoing mental support and advice to sufferers of stress caused by work.
It’s a well-known fact that it takes time to adapt back to reality after experiencing grief. Returning to work after mourning the loss of somebody close to you can be one of the biggest challenges of all time. Moving through grief and then getting back into the workplace doesn’t mean you’ll always feel productive or ready. For colleagues and managers, it can also be tricky to know how to support somebody in grief, which we will come onto.
Outside of having paid time off work, the culture of the workplace in many cases still is void of real support for an employee who has experienced loss. It is prevalent that there needs to be a bigger focus on the mental health of employees and in doing so, it will make the transition back to work far easier for people dealing with grief.
We’ve compiled a guide for both employees and managers. For employees who are grieving and must eventually return to work, you’ll find plenty of advice and support. For managers who are looking to provide guidance and support to their grieving employees, this guide is also for you.
Workplace grief: why it’s difficult
After a person has experienced a loss, grief often consumes them. In some cases, delayed grief can happen especially when paid time off has been centered around planning a funeral instead of dealing with the loss itself. Returning to work, therefore, can be very overwhelming with the feeling of grief continuing, even in the workplace.
Time off work does not mean that you have moved beyond the loss. Grieving is a process and one that is lengthy. Though eventually, you may be able to move on and find the joy in life again, grieving requires patience and understanding, including from yourself.
For some people, returning to the workplace can bring about a bit of normality again and is a welcomed distraction. Needless to say, there will still be times when you probably feel less than productive.
Small things may trigger you and remind you of your loss. You may find yourself at work suddenly in tears or unable to finish your tasks as a result of the emotions that you are experiencing. Any loss will take its toll on your motivation, so if you’re struggling or worried about your levels of productivity, it’s important to remember that you won’t be as productive as usual.
It is important to look at things realistically, whilst you are still mourning it will be difficult to get the same levels of work completed. The whole experience can leave you feeling exhausted and run down.
There are still ways in which you can return to work whilst you are still processing a loss. However, you will need to be mindful of your stress levels and well-being first and foremost.
If you have decided to return to work after losing somebody, it is crucial to set yourself up for the transition. Grief in the workplace can be difficult to navigate, particularly because no two days will feel the same. Below, we’ve included some guidance for you.
Decide what kind of support and privacy you need
Be clear about your expectations and discuss privacy matters with your manager. Your colleagues should be respectful of how much you want them to know. Leadership professionals will always want to notify their employees of what’s going on, but remember it is up to you to decide afterwards how much support you’d like from your team. Be clear with your comfort levels in regard to support from colleagues and if in doubt, talk to the HR department who will be able to help you further.
Be realistic in your expectations
It may take some time again before you feel like you did before experiencing loss. Therefore, you must be realistic in your expectations to keep stress to a minimum whilst you are at work. It’s totally okay if you are not feeling productive one day, you should inform your manager or offer to work from home if this is the case. Being honest is always key in order to be supported as you should.
Honour your feelings and be honest with yourself
From time to time, you may feel that your grief should be hidden at work. You may be dealing with denial or simply would prefer that you are treated as normal in the workplace. Whatever is going on for you on an emotional level, it is important to not ignore your feelings.
Try to be as honest as possible with yourself about your feelings related to the loss. Grief happens in stages and as you move through the various stages, it’s normal to experience a range of emotions. Such emotions include anger and even sorrow, which may become present at work. Do not judge yourself for having such feelings, allow yourself the space and time to move through the emotion.
Work on Self-Care & Grief Management
Grief does not take any one form and it will change as time goes on. When you feel any emotions associated with grief, you should try and focus on nourishing yourself and being patient. In the case of returning to work, you may need to take more breaks than often or deal with work tasks in a different way. Make sure that you are setting yourself up in a way that helps you to best manage grief.
It isn’t easy for a manager to know what to say or how to act towards an employee dealing with grief and loss. We advise that rather than attempting to find the correct words to show sympathy and acknowledge their loss, it’s best to offer them flexible working and compassion. Sometimes, people who are dealing with grief simply want to be treated as normal as possible. Offer to reduce their workload and make sure that your employee continues to feel respected as they process loss.
Provide support and respect privacy
When an employee talks to you about their grief, ask them personally if they wish you to inform them of the rest of the team. This sort of privacy demonstrates your respect for the employee and helps them to set an atmosphere that is comfortable for them at work.
Make it easier for them to return to work after a bereavement
Should your employee choose to take bereavement leave from work, it is crucial that you assess how you can adapt their workload to be less stressful upon their return. Try to adjust your own expectations and think about the ways in which you’d like to be supported. Lightening their workload is just one way in which you can help them transition back into the workplace.
Check in on their well-being
Make a point of checking in with your employee in regards to their general wellbeing. Receiving updates about their mental health and how they are finding work will help you to look at ways in which you can help even more. Perhaps you check-in weekly or even monthly, will go a long way in making your employee feel supported. Some employees dealing with grief may find the first week particularly challenging, for example.