Having to return to work after losing a loved one can be quite an overwhelming task for many. As the death is still very new, there is a significant grieving process and adjustment period that one must grapple with in the coming months–sometimes years–following their loved one’s passing. While returning to work may be the last thing on their mind during this grievous time, it’s unfortunately, a necessity. For some, getting back to the office can almost be a relief–it’s their way of making the effort to establish normalcy in their life. However, for others, any form of social/workplace interactions can cause great apprehension. In this article, we dive into a few helpful ways to navigate the common workplace awkwardness that comes with returning to work while grieving over the loss of a loved one.
Tips To Manage the Workplace
On average, most companies will hold orientations for their new employees that cover work safety, sexual harassment, and other important workplace essentials. Unfortunately, grief education is not something that is typically covered. Companies don’t really cover how to interpret body language, conversation cues, or ways to support a grieving employee. Unfortunately, it truly comes down to the bereaved to cope with their grief in a way that allows them to function at work and interact with fellow employees. To help with this difficult obstacle, we’ve come up with a few strategies that address workplace awkwardness in times of loss:
- Managing Small Talk: In times of mourning, even simple small talk can be enough to push you over the emotional edge. Instead of being caught off guard when a fellow colleague asks you how you’re doing, try coming up with a few scripted replies to keep the conversation from turning down a rocky path. For example, you can say something like “busy,” “it’s good to be back,” or “can’t wait for..”. Asking them questions in response is also a great way to shift the focus off of you.
- Maintaining Focus: Completing work task and staying focused can be a challenge when you’re still fighting through the stages of grief. To help keep you focused a clear of overwhelming stress, try breaking down your tasks into smaller steps. It might also be helpful to create a more peaceful work environment. If you’re allowed, bring in a favorite candle that offers soothing scents. Or, perhaps, bring in a pair of headphones to help cancel out the background noise of the busy office.
- Avoiding Triggers: In times of mourning, triggers can range from scents to songs and everything in between. Avoiding these triggers can be one of the most difficult tasks, especially while at work. If you have old emails with your loved one on your work computers, it might be wise to ask your IT department to take those emails off your server and into a separate file. If you are assigned to certain tasks that remind you too much of your loved one or the nature of their death, don’t be afraid to ask for a reassignment.
Going back to work while still working through the grieving stages can be a very challenging task and one that should not be done alone. During this time, don’t be afraid to ask for help where you need it, and most importantly, don’t push yourself past your boundaries. Working while grieving is almost like working two separate jobs. Remember to take it slow and let yourself breathe.
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