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The workplace and grief

After a death of a close relative or friend it is customary for the bereaved person to be allowed three days of compassionate leave from work. This is often not sufficient time for the funeral to be arranged or for the bereaved person to recover sufficiently emotionally. Some people find it very difficult to return to work whereas others find work diverts their mind away from grief.

Benefits Of Going Back To Work After Bereavement

There are some benefits in returning to the workplace after the loss of someone close and these may include:

  • returning to a known safe environment surrounded by workmates or colleagues
  • encouragement to resume a regular daily routine again, such as getting up and having meals at certain times
  • taking the mind away from grief and enabling the worker to feel “normal” for a while
  • completing work successfully may help the bereaved person feel more confident and raise their self esteem

Difficulties Of Going Back To Work After Bereavement

For some people returning to the workplace is an overwhelming burden in addition to their grief and they may need extra time off.

When back at work, some people are affected by reduced work performance which may be caused by:

  • lack of concentration and memory
  • tiredness from emotion and sleepless nights
  • feelings of depression
  • reduced patience and short temper

Management and workers may not appreciate the difficulties that grief can cause and the worker may worry that they will lose their job from reduced work performance or because of extra time taken from work.

Bereaved workers may also worry that they may have developed a reputation for:

  • wasting time
  • taking too much sick leave
  • being bad tempered, unreliable, unstable
  • receiving special treatment

The worker may be tempted to give up a job for fear of failure or to reduce the pressure on them.

Coping In The Workplace After A Bereavement

There are a variety of different strategies that a person returning to the workplace can use to help themselves after a loss:

  • some people find it helpful to send a statement to their place of work to inform them of their bereavement and to avoid having to tell their workmates and colleagues individually
  • discussion with the management can help to prepare a plan for return to work, such as how much time to have off, and to negotiate flexible hours if required
  • a doctor can provide a medical certificate for a worker’s inability to work or reduced tasks
  • prioritizing tasks can ensure the most important jobs get done

Helping The Bereaved Worker

There are a variety of different strategies that the workplace can do to help a person returning to the workplace after a loss:

  • immediate acknowledgement of the death through a note or flowers from management and workers can be very supportive and encouraging for the worker
  • a workplace representative at the funeral can demonstrate support
  • work colleagues can continue to express interest and listening to the how the worker is makes them feel valued
  • some flexibility in hours/tasks and time off can help the worker cope with the combined stress of work and grief
  • patience and understanding that the grief process takes time and that the worker cannot “snap out of it” will help expectations to be met

Other resources

Beyond Blue


Page last updated: 17 September, 2019

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