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There might never feel like a good time to return to work after the death of a loved one. But there are a few things you can do to make it a little easier.

Remember there’s no right or wrong way to feel

People respond to the loss of a loved one in different ways. You might welcome the routine that work provides. Or you might find the idea of returning to work overwhelming. There’s no right or wrong way to feel.

Talk to your manager about your first day back

Most managers are very understanding when an employee is grieving. And most workplaces have support in place to help. Before your first day back at work after bereavement, it’s a good idea to chat with your manager about any support you might need.

Some things you might want to talk about:

Do you feel able to return to full-time duties?

Or would you find it easier to return for a few days a week at first? Some employers offer employees a phased return to work after bereavement. This can help you to get back to work without feeling overwhelmed.

If you need to make a permanent change to your working hours, ask your manager what you need to do. For example, you might need to make the request in writing.

Are there specific tasks you aren’t ready for?

Are there any tasks you don’t feel ready to return to? For example, you might feel comfortable answering emails, but might not feel ready for meetings. Or if your job involves a lot of travel, you might not want to be away from home too much straightaway. Talk to your manager about adjusting your responsibilities for a few weeks while you get used to being back at work.

Do you need to change your working environment?

If you usually work in an office, would it help you to work from home for part of the week? Particularly in the first few weeks after you're back to work. Or if you usually work from home, would you like to be around people a bit more? If so, is it possible for you to work in the office more often? Your manager should be able to explain your options.

Who should know about your bereavement?

You might be happy to talk openly about what has happened. Or you might prefer to avoid questions that you find upsetting. Talk with your manager about how you want your return to work to be handled. Do you want to act as though everything is ‘normal’, with no mention of your loss? Or do you want to tell your co-workers why you’ve been away?

Be ready for low moments

There might be times when you feel like you’re going to cry. Or you might feel anxious or even angry. Whatever the reason, it can be helpful to have a place to go where you can be alone. This could be a private workspace or an empty meeting room. Or it might mean heading outside for a few minutes to get some fresh air.

Understand your co-workers might react differently

Just like we all react differently to grief, you’ll probably find different reactions from your co-workers too. Some people will be comfortable expressing their sympathy and may even ask you questions. Others may avoid mentioning your loss – though that doesn’t mean they don’t care. If you don’t feel comfortable talking about your loss, it’s fine to say so.

Don’t expect too much from yourself

It’s natural to find it difficult when you’ve just returned to work after a bereavement.  Remember that it will take time to adjust. Grief can affect your attention span and make it difficult to concentrate. And if you’re having trouble sleeping your productivity levels may suffer. If you’re taking longer to complete tasks that’s okay. Allow more time than you usually would to complete your work and plan in time for extra breaks too.

It’s okay to ask for help

You don’t have to struggle alone. On a practical level, your co-workers might be able to take on a few of your responsibilities for a while. Or you might be able to get an extension on a deadline.

If you need someone to talk to about your loss, there are many UK bereavement charities that provide counselling and support for free. Some companies also provide grief counselling for employees. Talk to your manager to find out if your employer offers this, as it’s important you get the support you need.

Other useful links

  • Citizen’s advice: if you need advice about your rights when returning to work after bereavement.
  • Samaritans: if you need to talk to someone right now about how you’re feeling, the Samaritans’ helpline is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash.