Dealing with grief in the workplace

CPJ Grief in the workplace

Every experience of grief is different. The same can be said of the role work can play after a bereavement. Going back to work as soon as possible following the death of a loved one, for some, provides a welcome distraction from overwhelming thoughts and emotions. For others, sadly, factors out of their control can force their hand on this decision. Taking time off, for instance, might not be financially feasible or their employers might have an inadequate bereavement or compassionate leave policy in place. On the other hand, some might simply need more time to grieve before they can resume any sense of normality or even feel able to function. All are entirely personal and valid circumstances. Read on for our suggestions and things to consider for dealing with grief in the workplace.

Talk to your colleagues

Grief is a heavy burden to carry alone. If you have a work colleague who you feel comfortable talking to, consider sharing your struggles with them and ask them if you can lean on them for support. Feelings of isolation are extremely common when grieving. Some of your colleagues may feel uncertain about how best to approach a conversation with you about what’s happened. They may avoid talking to you about it because of this. Being avoided is sadly a common experience. It can often come from a well-meaning place but can be hard not to take personally. It can be helpful to address this directly by informing your colleagues of your wishes. For instance, if you’d like to openly talk about the person who died then let your workmates know this. Alternatively, it might be that work provides some escape from your circumstances and expressions of sympathy are a painful reminder of what’s happened. Indeed, if you’d rather not discuss how your feeling then express this preference too. You might consider asking one coworker in particular to communicate this on your behalf, if you’re concerned about doing so yourself.

Plan to grieve at work

When a loved one has died, the smallest things can remind you of them. You can’t anticipate when grief will come on and what will prompt it. If you are at work, consider how you will respond in these moments. If you find yourself tearful, is there a quiet space nearby where you can compose yourself? If you work in a customer facing role and suddenly find this too demanding, could you talk to your boss about undertaking an alternative task? Whatever you do, don’t fight these feelings of sadness or feel ashamed about expressing them at work. They are a natural part of the grieving process.

Be kind to yourself

Grief can be erratic. Some days you might be able to go about your day as usual. Other days, simply putting one foot in front of another can feel like an almighty challenge. Don’t beat yourself up about this or add any unnecessary stress or pressure on yourself. You are doing the best that you can do. Treat yourself as you would a friend - with kindness and compassion. Remind yourself that it’s ok to take things at your own pace and understandable to function at a slower pace. If you’ve been presented with hard deadlines, communicate clearly with your boss and workmates about what is feasible for you.

Have a routine

Grief can turn your world upside down. Even if it’s little by little, one way to deal with grief is to establish a routine and introduce structure into your day again. In the beginning that might mean simply mustering the energy to get out of bed at a certain time and brushing your teeth. When you do return to work, agree a routine with your employer that works for you – be that a phased, gradual return to work or throwing yourself back into full time hours. Amid your work routine too, consider setting aside allocated time for grieving. Indeed, it can be beneficial and healthy to completely immerse yourself in grief for a short period. This might involve looking though photographs of your loved one, talking to a friend or family member or expressing your feelings in a diary.

Read more about the unique journey of grief.

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