Coping with Grief at Work
One of the most difficult parts of losing a loved one is going back to your regular routine. When there is a new and gaping hole in your life, it can seem almost impossible to get up, shower, go to work, run errands, and otherwise go through the motions of daily life. However, most people still have bills to pay, and even with the most progressive employers, bereavement leave rarely lasts longer than a few weeks.
For some people, work provides relief from a constant state of mourning. Keeping busy and staying active provides purpose and structure to your day, which means you will adopt healthy habits and routines. For others, it is impossible to focus for long stretches of time, and sitting at a desk or dealing with customers for eight hours might strain your already frayed emotional state. Both of these (as well as all other reactions) are perfectly natural. Everyone grieves in their own way, and there is no right or wrong way to do it.
No matter where you fall on the grief spectrum, however, here are a few tips to help you deal with your grief at work.
- Know Your Limits: You might be fine wrestling spreadsheets for a few hours but balk at chatting on the phone with potential customers. You may prefer to spend time with others in meetings instead of being given too much time to reflect by working from home. Take a look at your habits and state of mind to determine where you are comfortable and where you are not.
- Talk to Your Employer: Once you know what you are and are not capable of, talk to your employer. Most will be willing to work out a system where you can be a productive member of the team while also dealing with your grief. If you are not honest about what you need out of your workplace, they will not be able to accommodate you.
- Know Your Rights: Depending on your company’s policies, you may be eligible for paid time off, special accommodations, and other considerations following the death of a loved one—especially if you are suffering from mental illness as a result of your loss. Talk with an HR representative to learn what options are available to you.
- Prepare for Coworkers: Most of the people you work with will not know how to help you cope with your loss. They may say insensitive things, offer assistance you neither want nor need, talk about their own experiences with death, or avoid the topic altogether. As much as possible, be explicit about what you need from them. Although it might temporarily strain relationships, your mental health is one of the most important things right now.
- All Things in Moderation: Do not expect to be able to immediately recover your full capabilities and achievements right away. It can take weeks, months, or even years to reach equilibrium in your life and in your career. Reexamine your expectations and put your professional goals on hold for a little while. It is okay to slow down and focus on what is really important.
- Seek Help When Needed: Perhaps most importantly, do not be afraid to seek professional help if you need it. Grief counselors and support groups exist for a reason, and you might be surprised how many people are struggling with the same thoughts and feelings as you.
Above all else, good communication is key. By openly discussing your needs, your workplace and coworkers will be better able to help you get back to a working routine that fits.