Re-entry into the workplace following a loss

return-to-workTruly how does the workplace fit into the equation of a griever rebuilding a daily routine while sorting through the emotions following the death of a loved one?  Is it best to dive into work responsibilities allowing the mind to be occupied by tasks and deadlines or would it be best to stay home and take care of the endless list of to-do’s?  The answer is finding a balance, which most likely will be a combination of both approaches.

For some, either due to company policies or personal financial needs, returning to work is not optional. Regardless of the reason, returning to the workplace can be an intimidating experience. How does one balance his/her emotional state while maintaining a professional relationship with co-workers? What is appropriate behavior for the workplace?  Climbing over the initial hurdle will prove beneficial for most, as the return to work provides structure for a daily routine and a place to go each day.

The first day will likely be the worst, but the anticipation of the return is often harder than the return itself.  What will people say?  How will people react to your behaviors?  These are just a few questions that create a feeling of anxiety. Co-workers, struggling to find the right things to say or do, will have a tendency to hover in silence, which in turn creates greater anxiety rather than a feeling of normalcy. In fact, many co-workers may avoid any interaction to eliminate the feeling of awkwardness.

As part of the transition back to work, being prepared for co-workers complaining about uncontrollable events such as weather or traffic, or comparing their personal challenges to yours is essential.  While in the throws of grieving and finding the necessary strength to return to work, these comparisons and complaints are often perceived as hurtful; however, in most cases it is due to our emotional state and co-workers’ feeling of helplessness to approach the situation meaningfully. Unfortunately as grievers, we are the ones who are hurt by the behavior even though our co-workers are not malicious by nature.

As a grieving employee returning to work, be sure to:

  • Embrace the care that co-workers provide, whether providing support on a project, cooking a meal or offering assistance.
  • Communicate your needs, as assumptions will be made on your behalf.
  • Try not to over think the situation and accept the awkwardness as a function of being out of sync with co-workers.
  • Recognize that you are overwhelmed with emotions and you may not be as sharp, energetic or productive as you were before the loss.

As a griever you will have good and bad days as you sort through the array of newfound emotions following your loss.  Just like home life, work life will find a rhythm of comfort and stability – becoming a place to go each day, to re-engage with others and most importantly to provide normalcy and a daily routine.

Rachel Kodanaz is an author, speaker and consultant who provides support to workplaces when there has been a death of an employee or when an employee has experienced a personal loss.  She is the author of Grief in the Workplace Management Handbook and Living with Loss, One Day at a Time.  Both are available at www.rachelkodanaz.com.

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