Going back to work after a bereavement

Returning to your job when you are grieving can be really tough. Here are some tips around taking time off after a loss, and ideas to help you settle back into working life.

There are no set rules for how to react after losing a close friend or relative - grief is different for everyone. However, we can all benefit from a bit of time off afterwards.

Anyone classed as an employee in the UK has the right to ‘reasonable’ time off if ‘a dependant’ dies, such as your partner, parent, or another person who relies on you. You also have the right to parental bereavement leave if your child is stillborn or dies under the age of 18.

Unfortunately there are no laws guaranteeing you paid time off - this will depend on your personal situation and also on your employer.

Set your own boundaries

When it’s time to go back to work, asking yourself some simple questions can make you more aware of how you feel, and make it easier to be clear with your colleagues and company about what feels right for you:

  • Do you feel fit to work full time or would you prefer a phased return (i.e. working half days to start with)?

  • How do you want others to treat you – would you like your colleagues to express their condolences and ask how you are? Or would you prefer them not to mention your loss, or not to know about it at all?

Talk to your employer

Many employers have a bereavement policy offering compassionate leave.

  • Check your contract or staff handbook, ask your manager, HR or union representative if your employer offers an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), and if so, find out what it can offer you after a bereavement.

  • Talk to your manager or HR about your situation, and say whether you want your colleagues to know about your bereavement, and if so, how much information you want to share.

  • Discuss how to manage difficult moments at work and how others can support you (e.g. would you prefer to be left alone if you get upset, or would you want company?)

  • Ask for regular catch ups and check-ins to help you settle back in.

Keep up a routine

Sticking to a regular daily routine, including exercise and regular meals before, during and after work, can really benefit your mental health and give your days some structure during a time of upheaval.

Grief can have a huge impact on your ability to concentrate, so having a to-do list that breaks down different tasks at work (and at home) can give you a sense of focus and help you feel more in control as you ease yourself slowly back into work.

Look after yourself

Going back to your job can feel overwhelming, so thinking through potential coping strategies can help in case it all suddenly feels too much.

  • If you get upset, is there a room you can retreat to, or a kind colleague you can talk to?

  • What can you do to avoid getting stressed? For example, block off time in your diary every day to take a break, go for a walk, have lunch, stretch, switch off for a bit.

  • Think up some standard responses to questions such as: ‘How are you doing?’. That way you won’t be caught off guard and can move the conversation on swiftly if you don’t want to talk about it.

If you are struggling to cope at any point, see your GP. Feeling depressed and anxious after a loss could count as illness, which entitles you to statutory or occupational sick pay.

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