Returning to Work after Bereavement
After the loss of a loved one, it can feel as though your normal life almost comes to a standstill. It can trigger a whole range of emotions, not limited to shock, anger, disbelief and despair, especially as the enormity of the loss sinks in.
It is a common belief that it takes many different steps to work your way through grief and this can take a long time. Therefore, you may have to face both working through your feelings and finding a way to navigate life at the same time.
Once you’ve used your compassionate leave and you’re facing returning to work. Your job may appear as a lifeline, something to focus on and turn your attention away from the pain you are feeling, or you may be dreading it entirely. Make sure to read below for our thoughts on how you can manage to make your way through such a difficult period of your life.
If You are a Bereaved Person Returning to Work
Talking to Your Employer
The first thing you may wish to do is contact either your line manager or HR team, should your workplace have one, about what your workplace can do upon your return to work.
This may involve a ‘return to work’ phone call or meeting to discuss everything before you start working again. If this isn’t suggested by your employer, you may wish to ask for this anyway.
Can You Return to Work Gradually?
For many, a gradual or phased return to work can be extremely helpful. This could mean returning to work on reduced hours initially and then gradually increasing them as you get back into your normal working life. You’ll still have time to understand and work through all of the emotions, yet it can be a step that helps you return to normal.
Grief is an unpredictable feeling. Some may struggle with returning to work straight away. No matter how much time has passed, if you have found yourself struggling, make sure to talk to your manager or HR team.
Whether or not a phased or gradual return to work is possible will depend on the nature of your workplace and job role. Make sure to discuss this with the correct person at your workplace to find out what is available.
Can Your Workplace Offer Flexible Working?
Flexible working can also help you to deal with grief and such a large change in your life.
Flexible working will include part-time, working from home, working the same number of hours in the week yet across fewer days, and control over when you start and finish working.
When a loved one passes, you may find yourself with more responsibilities, such as caring for a child or another bereaved loved one.
Speak to your employer about what flexible working arrangements are available to you to help you to adjust to your new life.
Typically, you will have the right to apply for flexible working if you have been working at your workplace for more than 26 weeks. Your employer doesn’t have to agree to this, yet they will consider whether this is possible.
Preparing to Return to Work
When you are facing going back to work, you may wish to speak to your manager so that you can feel completely prepared. You may wish for your manager to tell others in the company about your bereavement, and what you do and don’t want them to say.
Don’t worry about getting upset at work. This is completely normal especially if you are talking about how you are feeling or if the person crosses your mind. A good way to deal with this is by taking a few deep breaths, speaking with a colleague or taking a step outside for some fresh air. Similarly, you may wish to speak with your manager or HR team.
It can also be helpful to tell your manager about some tasks you have to complete in the process including sorting out a Will or the funeral.
Getting the Support You Need
There may be many different ways that your workplace can help you through such a tough period of your life. Therefore, make sure to discuss the whole situation with your manager or colleagues.
If You are an Employer
Speaking to Them
You should speak to your employee and understand more about the situation.
Some may need a large amount of support upon the passing of a loved one, even later down the line, for example on the anniversary of the death or if there has to be an inquest.
Offering your employee the support they need can:
- Make them feel valued,
- Reduce the stress and anxiety they are feeling,
- Avoid or reduce the sick leave they have,
- Help keep a positive working relationship,
- Keep them productive in the workplace.
It’s incredibly important that you take all the time needed to speak to your employee and communicate with them on what they need.
Understanding More About the Situation
You should speak to your employee and understand more about the situation.
From the moment they tell you what has happened, make sure to:
- Offer your condolences,
- Assure them that they don’t have to come to work if it doesn’t feel right, and that work comes second,
- Ask them how they wish to keep in touch, whether that’s over the phone or email,
- Ask them if they have any important work that needs covering.
Understand that if they are upset, they may not wish to talk for long, or perhaps someone close to them may contact you on their behalf. If this is the case, it can mean a lot to them if you follow up with a call or email a few days later.
Keep the communication light, calm and empathetic and your employee will feel incredibly supported, and it will be a huge weight off their shoulders if their work is sorted.
Things You Can Do
Firstly, check your bereavement policy so that you know exactly what you can offer your employee. This policy should take into consideration that some employees may need to travel abroad at short notice, therefore requiring a longer period off.
Similarly, you may wish to:
- Check your employee’s legal right to time off, for example, if they require parental bereavement leave,
- Consider their circumstances, including whether their religion or culture,
- Make sure that you offer everything fairly,
- Offer paid time off if possible,
- Talk about whether they wish to take sick leave, holiday or unpaid leave if other paid leave of bereavement is not possible,
- Ask whether they need any other support.
Keeping in Touch
In the first few days of the bereavement, you should keep in touch with your employee where possible.
Make sure to ask:
- How they are feeling,
- How they wish for you to contact them,
- If they want you to inform others in the company about the passing,
- If they want to be contacted by others in the company to offer their condolences,
- If they need any information or support,
- Whether they have considered returning to work.
Never presume, and never pressure them into making any decisions either way.
Returning to Work
There aren’t many people who decide that returning to work within a few days of bereavement is right for them.
Keeping in touch will allow you to keep the discussion about returning to work open and you can also discuss:
- How the employee is feeling,
- When they might be ready to return to work,
- Whether they are aware of your organisation’s bereavement policy,
- Any adjustments they may need on their return to work including a phased return or a temporary change in their workload,
- What support they may need,
- Any changes at work they might want to know more about.
How quickly someone returns to work is an incredibly personal thing. So it might be hard to judge how long someone may be off or when they’ll feel ready to return.
Therefore, keeping in touch will help you to discuss everything they need. It may also be useful to arrange either meeting for a coffee or lunch, simply to help reduce the anxiety they are feeling about returning to work.
Offering Ongoing Support
Once a bereaved employee returns to work, you should continue your support and understand that grief may affect them in many different ways.
For example, they may need some extra time off if grief is affecting their sleep and therefore their performance, they are struggling with their mental health or if they have gained extra responsibilities.
Make sure to speak to your employee and discuss what is best for them, especially when it comes to physical and mental health.
Leaders in Funeral services
Here at the Elms Funeral Directors, we are proud experts in providing a range of funeral services. We understand the grieving process and will look to support you each step of the way to arrange a funeral that reflects your loved one and the person they were, perfectly.
We are a family business, and therefore we are here to help. We care about our clients and will offer our deepest sympathy and condolences for the loss they are experiencing.