Dealing with grief in the workplace

Grief is universal and one of the most painful experiences in our lifetime. The loss of a loved one impacts each and every aspect of our lives, including work.

Yet, grief in the workplace is a blind spot that is rarely addressed in many organisations.

The difficult part of grief is trying to get back a sense of normalcy in life, including returning to work.

And when the loss happens at work,  it can be overwhelming for colleagues and managers to get past the loss when there are reminders of the deceased at the workplace that bring feelings of sadness and even tears throughout the day.

Suffering a loss can take a toll on our motivation levels too. Things that used to be important may not feel so urgent or pressing anymore.

Managing work responsibilities and expectations, and grieving can be exhausting and may lead to burnout. Therefore, proper grief management at work is crucial. Here are some ways to go about it.

Adjust expectations

You might not feel like yourself for a while after experiencing a loss. Adjust expectations of yourself at work to reduce stress while you come to terms with your loss. You may not be as productive or focused on the job, and that is okay.

Discuss your loss with your manager and tell them how you are doing once you return from bereavement leave. Being honest about how you are coping will help them to better support you.

Determine your needs for support

Set expectations around privacy with your manager. Co-workers and leadership may want to notify your team members of your loss. While grieving, condolences from colleagues can be a great source of support and allow others to adjust their expectations of you at work.

However, some may find it challenging to be reminded of their loss unexpectedly by colleagues. You should also consult with your human resource department on available mental health benefits if you require counselling or support privately. This will also ensure that you experience your emotions fully and do not just ignore them, which might be cataclysmic in the long run.

Do not shun your feelings

Sometimes, we feel the need to hide our grief at work. We may experience denial about the loss or just want to return to normal. However, ignoring grief won’t stop it from happening; it will only delay the recovery process.  Be honest with yourself and honour your feelings about the loss.

As you move through the stages of grief, you will feel a range of emotions, like sorrow and anger. Try not to place judgment on these feelings, and simply let yourself process the emotion. Remember, grieving is like breathing. Even when held or delayed, eventually you must do it.

Set some time aside for yourself

Grief is fluid, and it will change over time. However, when you experience a loss, grief can be ever-present in your life, and work is no exception. Therefore, when you first return to work, you may need to be intentional about taking breaks to feel your emotions fully. Setting aside dedicated time in your workday to grieve and process your feelings can help manage grief at work. 

Keep busy

In conclusion, we all experience grief uniquely and there is no manual as to how one should do it. If you find that keeping busy at work helps as a distraction from sad feelings, do it to ease your recovery, it does not mean that you did not care for your loved one. It is also important for colleagues and managers to support employees by checking up on them, easing their workload, but most importantly, respecting and maintaining their privacy.


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