Returning to work after bereavement

A cup of coffee and glass of water next to someone using a laptop

Losing your partner can have a very unsettling effect on your social confidence but sooner or later you will be finding it is time to go back to work.

If you are returning to work, you might want to email colleagues – or your manager – suggesting how you would prefer people to behave towards you.

Although you won’t want colleagues to pretend that nothing has happened, often a warm smile or a hug is enough to know that people are thinking about you, rather than facing a barrage of well-meaning questions.

Here are some of our tips to help your prepare for going back to work after bereavement:

  1. Take your time: Don’t rush back; give yourself the necessary time to heal and process your loss before returning to work.

  2. Providing routine: Returning to work can provide a distraction and a sense of normalcy. Interacting with others can help take your mind off your grief for a few hours. But everyone’s journey is different, so do what feels right in your circumstances.

  3. Phased return: If possible, consider a gradual return to work to ease the transition. It can be helpful to meet up with your managers or colleagues before you return to work to help break the ice.

  4. Dealing with colleagues: Decide whether you’re comfortable discussing your loss and communicate your preferences to colleagues, helping guide their interactions with you. If others don’t acknowledge your loss, take control and initiate conversations.

  5. Open communication: Be honest with your managers about your emotional state and any specific needs you have in order to navigate the workplace effectively.

  6. Anticipate triggers: Identify any potential triggers at work and have a plan in place to step away, if needed; use quiet spaces for moments when you feel overwhelmed; make sure colleagues know what to do if you need help.

  7. Manage expectations: Understand that your performance might fluctuate, especially on difficult days, and recognise that your best effort is enough.

  8. Expect the unexpected: Many people are surprised how much grief impacts their ability to read and retain information. Don’t be too harsh on yourself. Things will get better with time…

  9. Establish boundaries: Set limits to prevent work from becoming a distraction from your grief; find a balance between work and healing.

  10. Look after yourself: Find ways to ease the emotional impact of returning to an empty house after work, for example, by leaving on a light or radio. Take care of yourself first.

Alongside other bereavement charities, WAY Widowed and Young is calling for all companies to adopt a workplace bereavement policy to support their staff when they lose a loved one. 

Find out more and download a template bereavement policy.

Read more tips from WAY members