When dealing with grief at work, there are no magic recipes for the right thing to do -and the wrong thing to do- that are valid for everyone. It simply does not apply when we try to adapt the characteristics of this complex psychological process, which follows the loss of something or someone significant, to the demands of our profession.
On most occasions, when we experience a significant loss, life does not give us much time to adjust before we have to resume our usual occupations, mainly those related to work. Some losses, such as those of very close family members, allow us to take a few days before returning to the office, while with other losses (personal or otherwise) there is no such possibility.
However, this is true for employees, but many self-employed workers do not have a context that gives them a break when dealing with grief at work but must return to their activities as soon as possible if they do not want to suffer a significant financial loss in addition to the loss they have already suffered.
This aspect of returning to work is experienced in very different ways by each bereaved person. For some, it can be a problem that can severely affect their mental well-being at work while for others it is a solution. It all depends on the characteristics of the job to be performed, but also on the needs of the person in question.
For instance, when dealing with grief at work, there will be those who feel a great relief when resuming their work because it distracts them, entertains them, and connects them with other facets of their life unrelated to the loss they have suffered. In addition, they feel psychologically ready for it.
On the other hand, other people may experience as a real burden the fact of having to work during the first period after the loss, since they are much more connected to it and this prevents them from being optimally available at a psychological level to think, create, decide, understand, remember, relate to their colleagues and, in short, fulfill their different tasks normally.
Dealing with grief at work
When dealing with grief at work there are a few things we can keep in mind. Let’s look at them in more detail.
1. Leave the rush behind
Grieving is a long process and our needs will change over time. What is good for us on some days may be a burden on other days. Let’s remember this when making decisions about our grief in the work environment, as sometimes we need to slow down even to a minimum and stay home if we can, but other times work can revitalize us and it’s okay to do so. It is not a “betrayal” of our grieving process.
2. If you can, try to adapt your tasks
If there is no choice but to return to the task but we feel that our energy is at a minimum, it is advisable to ask for the adaptations and cooperation of bosses and colleagues as much as possible. Sometimes it helps to start slowly and focus on very simple or mechanical tasks (such as “errands”) that do not require thinking or deciding but are necessary and someone has to do them. Perhaps during the days when we are less available psychologically (distracted), we can focus on them.
3. Explain to others what you need
Remember that others do not know how you feel, what you think, what you need. They cannot guess our inner state and many times they will prefer to be cautious and give us space rather than be invasive.
Some people experience this with resentment, interpreting others as acting “as if nothing has happened”. It doesn’t have to be that way. If we are confident, it is a good idea to let them know where we stand:
“Don’t worry, I’m fine, don’t panic”, “I’m not feeling well, but that’s the way it is, I will gradually get better, you don’t need to ask me every day”, “I appreciate you asking me, it makes me feel better“, “I don’t mind you mentioning the subject”, “I prefer to be distracted and not touch the subject, what do we have on the agenda?”, “I may suddenly be distracted or not know anything, don’t mind me, I will be a bit absent for a while”. This can avoid misunderstandings and sensitivities.
How to support a coworker who is dealing with grief at work
1. Do not assume
Do not take for granted that the person is not well, do not take for granted that this or that is good for them, do not take for granted that they will react or show what is happening to them in a certain way. Each grieving person is unique and not always predictable.
2. Observe, be patient, be careful, be flexible
When we are grieving we oscillate between moments of connecting with the reality of the loss and moments of disconnecting and orienting ourselves to the other things in life. This means that there will be times, or days when the person seems very little or not at all affected by their loss and others when their mood, their mind, their behavior, will indicate the opposite. Do not be disconcerted by this, grief is not linear, there will be ups and downs…
3. Offer availability and cooperation in a concrete manner
The “If you need anything, let me know” type of statements are very polite, but they leave all the responsibility for asking for help on the bereaved person and they may not draw on that wild card.
It is more appropriate for us to take the initiative naturally, without being overwhelming, with simplicity: “Do you need help with this task”, “I can take care of it, but would you prefer to do it yourself? Whatever you tell me”, “Do you need us to review your schedule these days? Would you like to make any changes?”, “Would you prefer to work from home or come to the office? You know that if you change your mind you can tell me”, “Don’t worry now about this or that matter, if it’s okay for you we will be happy to take care of it, but if it’s a burden, let us know and we’ll look into it, okay?
Addressing grief in the workplace
Grief in the work environment, our own grief, and that of others remind us that we are human as well as workers. Therefore, we must understand that our personal and professional aspects will always be linked and influence each other. Consequently, in bad times your relationship will be complicated, but our work and the work of others must continue.
For this to happen as smoothly as possible, it is essential to cultivate a patient and empathetic attitude. Maybe today it is my colleague who is dealing with grief at work, tomorrow it could be me.
Ifeel has created an emotional well-being program for companies, designed by its team of expert psychologists with one main objective: to help companies put employee health at the heart of their strategy to boost sustainable productivity.
Thanks to this partnership, the people in charge of human resources departments can receive personalized and data-driven advice on how to make good decisions in a company to accompany their team members also when they are going through the most difficult moments.
In addition, this program offers employees a holistic mental health care service structured at different levels according to their needs. This service includes, if required, online psychological therapy with a psychologist specialized in cases like theirs. Try our program today so you can see how it could help you.
We hope you found this post about dealing with grief at work helpful. If you want more information about our emotional well-being program for companies simply request it and we will contact your team as soon as possible. You may also be interested in this post about the advantages of using ifeel’s workplace mental health platform.