HEALTHY WORKPLACE

How to Deal with Grief at Work

By Michele C. Hollow @michelechollow
 | 
July 20, 2017

Your feelings are still raw and the sadness remains after the death of a loved one. Here’s how to deal with your grief while you’re at work.

After the death of her husband, Kelly Richards took time off from her job to mourn. Her sadness was overwhelming, so much so, that it made it hard to focus on her day-to-day activities. Richards works as an accountant and knew that she wouldn’t be able to do her job properly.

Her husband had an ongoing battle with cancer. She had many ups and several downs. “I had hope in the beginning and then later I knew he wasn’t going to survive as the cancer progressed,” she said. “I didn’t want to go back to work. I just wanted to stay in bed. Having a young child motivated me to get up and function.”

Her company gave her a week off. Many companies allow up to three days as bereavement leave to deal with the death of a family member. The actual number of paid leave in the United States varies. It’s best to talk to your employer or human resources (HR) director for the details.

 

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Having three days, a week, or even a month off doesn’t guarantee that your sorrow will dissipate, or that you’ll be able to deal with grief at work once you return. During her week off, Richards planned her husband’s funeral and spent time with her son and visiting family and friends. “It got harder once everyone left,” she said. “Going back to work was going to be hard. I didn’t want to hear everyone coming up to me telling me how sorry they were. I knew that would make me cry.”

She spoke to the director of HR at her company and was told that if she needed more time, she could take it, but the company wouldn’t compensate her for it. “I needed an extra week and thought I could manage without a week’s salary,” she said. “The amount of time we grieve is different for everyone. I knew having two weeks off wouldn’t stop me from crying at times. I also knew I had to go back to work and that I had to function because of my child.”

She called the HR director and told her she was worried that she’d feel overwhelmed if everyone kept on talking to her about her husband’s death. “The director told me that she alerted everyone at the office to offer their condolences and to not ask me any questions about my husband’s death,” she said. “It made it a little easier that way.”

If you don’t have an HR department, ask your boss to talk to your coworkers about this or when you do see your coworkers, tell them that you aren’t ready to talk about it.

Other steps you can take to deal with grief at work include:

  • When you’re having trouble focusing, tell your supervisor.
  • If you have a close officemate, talk to him or her.
  • Ask a coworker or your supervisor to double check your work. Since your mind may occasionally focus on your loss, it’s a good idea to get another set of eyes on your work.
  • Make a to-do list and check everything off as you complete each task. This is a good way to make sure you haven’t missed anything.
  • Take breaks from five minutes to a full lunch hour to help you refocus.
  • On your break time, you can take a short walk, do some deep breathing, or write your thoughts down in a journal.
  • If you feel sadness sweeping over you, find a quiet place you can escape to.
  • Allow yourself time to heal. Getting over a major loss takes time, and your sadness can resurface occasionally. Something could trigger your grief. Know that it’s normal and know that it gets better.
  • Be prepared that some of your coworkers will say the wrong thing or say nothing at all. Maybe someone didn’t know about your loss or that person could be uncomfortable talking about it. Remind yourself that the person wasn’t purposely being unkind; he probably felt awkward.
  • If you don’t feel better, talk to a professional counselor who can help you manage your emotions.

“It took me a while to get back to my normal self,” Richards said. “I’ll always think about my husband and how much I miss him. Time, however, really does help and so does having a strong support group of family, friends, and a therapist to talk to.”

 

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Updated:  

July 20, 2017

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN