Nervous About Returning to Work While Grieving? 11 Tips


When someone you love dies, it can be difficult to think about having to go back to work after your bereavement leave finishes up. You may be anxious to face your coworkers and give details about your loss.

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It can be helpful to know that each time you tell your story, you hit the reset button on your grief progress during the initial stages of grief. There are ways to handle these sometimes painful and awkward moments. If you’re at all nervous about returning to work while grieving, read ahead for tips on how to manage.

Tips for Acknowledging Your Return to Work While Grieving

Let’s face it, not many people are eager to return to work after suffering a significant loss in their lives. It can take great effort in deciding to get up each morning, get dressed, and head out the door. In fact, you may still be suffering from grief when you return to work.

If any of this sounds like you, the following tips can help you address your employer and coworkers when you return to work:

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1. Take one day at a time

When first returning to work after your loved one’s death, it can seem overwhelming dealing with your grief, inquisitive coworkers, and work pressures. Even though you’re surrounded by your peers, you can still feel lonely and disconnected from everyone. Some of your colleagues will offer you words of sympathy and condolences, while others will keep their distance because they don’t know what to say or for other reasons.

You’ll need to strike a balance in how you want to handle your grief at work. Each day will bring you a new opportunity to reconnect with your work and your peers. 

2. Keep a closer eye on yourself

Not everyone will know that you’re grieving the loss of your loved one. When deciding to return to work, or coming back after your bereavement leave expires, consider taking extra measures that’ll help you transition back into your work duties despite how you might be feeling on the inside. 

While some of your coworkers may have expressed their condolences and offered their support, others may not know what you’re going through. Take a few seconds to breathe and check in with yourself.

It can be difficult to remember everything that is required of you at work, which includes how you behave. You may want to monitor yourself, or ask a trusted coworker, to keep an eye out and alert you to these types of behaviors that you may be exhibiting.

Ask that they discreetly call it to your attention if you’re having trouble with any of the following:

  • Missing deadlines 
  • Coming in late
  • Leaving early
  • Taking extended breaks
  • Reacting negatively to others
  • Dismissing your coworkers
  • Failing to turn in work assignments
  • Blaming others
  • Not following work rules

3. Keep feelings under control

You may create a very tense and awkward work environment for others by failing to maintain control of your feelings and emotions at work.

You don’t have to suppress your feelings when grieving, but you should try to acknowledge and move past them until you’re able to freely explore them away from the workplace. When you report to work, your goal should be to accomplish your assigned duties in the best way possible. Being able to compartmentalize your feelings while at work can serve you well.

4. Practice what you’ll say

Knowing what to say when someone approaches you about your loss will help you better deal with questions from your coworkers. You should expect that your coworkers will want to know what happened and how you’re feeling. Having a couple of canned responses ready will keep you from fumbling for words during this emotionally trying time for you.

It is important to remember that you’re under no obligation to share your experience with others. You’re in control of what you say and to whom. Some useful responses might be:

  • “I suffered a tremendous loss. I expect to be grieving for a while.”
  • “Thank you for your concern. My (wife) died. I’m still trying to cope with my loss.”
  • “I appreciate your words of sympathy. I’ll be dealing with this loss for some time.”
  • “I lost my (son) a few days ago. It was sudden and unexpected. I’ll need some time to process this terrible loss.”
  • “It’s a very difficult time for me, indeed. Please forgive me if I seem a bit distant.”

5. Acknowledge words of sympathy and condolences

By the time you return to work after your bereavement leave, you should expect that your coworkers may have reached out to you by offering you their sympathy and condolences.

Regardless of how long it takes for you to return to work, make sure to thank coworkers for their sympathy that they’ve expressed. You won’t need to send out any formal thank you cards. A brief but sincere “thank you for your sympathy and condolences” should be enough.

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Tips for Working Your Best While Grieving

When you’re grieving, you can expect that you’ll be operating at a sub-par level to what you’re used to.

Don’t be so hard on yourself and expect things to go smoothly from day one of your return. If you have a team of colleagues that you can reach out to, this might be the time to call them in for a quick meeting to let them know what you’re dealing with. Try explaining some of the biggest ways your grief might affect your work performance and suggest ways in which they can help you. 

6. Ask for help when needed

Knowing how to ask for help can save you from a lot of pressure, stress, and anxiety down the line. If you think that you’re not performing at your best and your work may suffer from it, ask your coworkers to step in and help you.

There may be areas in which you might be lagging and need some assistance. Try not to wait until a major project is due before reaching out to others for help. This will not only cause you to look bad but they will also look bad since they “helped you” with missing your deadline or falling short on your work product.

7. Don’t take on too much work

Learn the art of balancing the amount of work that you can handle while grieving your loss. Sometimes you might feel a certain enthusiasm to return to work after taking an extended bereavement break.

Try to temper your enthusiasm by reminding yourself that you’re still grieving and will likely suffer bouts of energy followed by bouts of depression. You don’t need to mask your pain and sadness by taking on too much work that may prove detrimental down the line. 

8. Double-check your work

When mourning the loss of a loved one who’s died, it’s easy to skip over important details in your work. Grief tends to cause you to be forgetful and absent-minded. It’s a good idea to double-check all of your work before turning it in for review in case you missed some important details.

If possible, you should ask a trusted colleague to give your work a second glance to see if they can pick up on any mistakes or omissions. 

Tips for Talking to Your Boss About a Poor Job Performance While Grieving

One of the most difficult things to have to do at work is to sit in on a poor job evaluation, especially when you’re still grieving a loss. Everything can seem exaggerated, and you may have difficulty processing and accepting any negative reviews about your work product or ethic.

Be open and honest with your employer in communicating what’s going on with you. Ask if there’s anything available company-policy wise, or through human resources to you to help you as you grapple with your grief. This might be a good time to discuss bereavement leave laws and what the company offers its employees as far as days off for a death in the family.

» MORE: Are you preparing for the loss of a loved one? Get support now.

9. Be honest about your grief

No one knows how long grief lasts as it’s different for each person. Some people may be more affected by their grief than others.

If you're suffering from your loss in ways that make it impossible to do a good job at work, talk with your employer about your concerns. Not everyone will be sympathetic to your loss. Try to avoid going into your meeting with expectations of leniency or second chances. 

10. Ask for additional time off

Depending on company policy, it may benefit you to take additional time off to process your grief more effectively before making a complete return to work. If you aren’t afforded the additional time off, you may need to seek other ways to manage your workload while you’re still grieving.

Consider shutting yourself off from others as much as possible for the next few days so that you can focus more on your productivity than on explaining the reasons for your absence at work. 

11. Offer to do better

When all else fails, offer an apology and vow to do better from this moment forward. You might be able to negotiate a second evaluation in a few days or weeks to offset the negative reviews of this one.

Talk to your superior to see where you can improve on your job performance so that you stand a better chance of getting a good job performance review the next time around.

Getting Through Your Grief at Work

Try not to be so hard on yourself, even if you do get a poor job performance evaluation. Grief affects people in so many negative ways that it’s expected of you to take some time in getting back to feeling your normal self again. In time, your grief will heal, and you’ll be back to your old self at work.

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