Grief and Mourning at Work: How to Get the Support You Need (Part I)

by Peggy Green of Thee Grief Specialist 

I hear time and time again from others who are grieving that it is a necessity to return to work. The most common reason is financial. Second is the fear of losing their job for being absent too long.

In this 3-part series, I will be sharing tips to help you navigate your loss when you return to work. 1. Work with  your employer. 2. Educate others how they can help you. 3. Be intentional with your own healing.

Grievers tend to dread the thought of returning to work. Facing their coworkers for the first time and receiving “I am sorry” platitudes that no longer have meaning or significance is a tough challenge. Grief is on its own timeline, and it surfaces when it wants. Employees may be wondering how to handle themselves when their grief consumes them. Will their co-workers judge? Will they look away? Will they be compassionate?  They may also lack confidence to perform their basic job functions. They no longer
have the capacity to think clearly, multitask or focus for extended periods of time.

This is all compounded by the reaction and support they receive from the manager. As David Kessler puts it so eloquently, “Grievers told me that what was most disruptive to them is they felt they needed to go back to work soon, and they got judged on that.” Ultimately, it is not the human resources policy, rather it is how their managers and co-workers reacted toward them that they experienced dread and difficulty as they transitioned back to work.

The question is this, how do I navigate this challenge?”

I have 3 ideas for you. Because this is such a complex issue, I will be covering this for the next three blog posts.

  • Inform your company, direct supervisor, and human resources what you are going through.
  • Schedule a meeting in person to share with them  the loss you have experienced. Tell them how you are feeling, and you realize its impact on  your job performance. Explain that you want to work and that this is a temporary situation.
  • After sharing the challenges, it is a good time to include your solutions. Tell them what you are doing to help yourself and what programs you are involved with. This assures them that you are focusing on working through your grief and are more likely to make accommodations.
  • The next thing is to ask for what you need and want. Be specific with your requests. Some options would be to have limited hours until you feel comfortable back at work. Maybe some of your responsibilities can be transferred to a co-worker for a short period of time. As for when you have a grief moment, could you be allowed to step into an unoccupied conference room, restroom, or office in order to process your thoughts and feelings. Is there a possibility that you can work from home and be in the office for critical meetings, events, or deadlines?

You know what will help  you. Make a list and ask for it. Take the list with you in your meeting to keep focused and organized. I believe by approaching your employer in this manner, you will get the support you need in a time of stress.

Time off may be something you need. There are no laws that guarantee time off for bereavement. Each company has their own policies, and it is up to them to work with you. In the end, it is to their benefit to do so because as an employee you feel cared for and supported.

Grief-related losses cost U.S. companies as much as $75 billion annually. It is time for corporations to take notice of this hidden cost and reduced it by being kind, caring and compassionate. While even in a difficult time, you are a happy and satisfied employee.  

Stay tuned for next week’s Thursday Thoughts where I will be sharing how to tell others what you need and watch a presentation I did on this subject.