Returning to work after bereavement: Helpful tips

August 2023

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

We asked members of the WAY Widowed and Young community to share their tips about returning to work after a bereavement. Here are some of their words of advice.


“Firstly, don’t go back too soon. I was off for over 4 months and then had a phased return. Secondly, be open with managers about how you really feel (e.g. I realised I was much more sensitive to everything around me and just not managing the stress like I had before). I should have discussed with managers. Also some people never ever acknowledged what had happened to me and this made me feel bad for them and really stopped me talking about my loss!! Again, I should really have addressed this. People don’t know what to do or say so I think, with hindsight, I should have taken a bit more control – e.g. asked a senior manager to say to staff before my return that I was ok to talk about my loss etc.”


“Ask for a phased return, if possible. Identify anything that may come up in your day to day that might be a trigger and have a plan in place to be able to step out. My office had a quiet/prayer room that is used to take 5 if things got too overwhelming. Also have a plan in place/colleagues on hand who know what to do if you need to step out to cover for you. I found going back both really helpful but also overwhelming on the bad days. I felt I was letting down my team when I couldn’t perform at my best. A colleague reminded me that me being there and struggling was my 100% for that day and to not be so harsh on myself.”


“Go in just to visit before you start. Let your colleagues know if you want to talk or not and any cues they can watch for. I found then, when I returned to work, the initial ice had been broken.”


“Don’t worry if you don’t feel ready to go back quickly. I ended up signed off for around 16 months. It was what I needed to recover and I was very lucky to have an accommodating employer. Don’t put pressure on yourself that you should be feeling a certain way by a certain time.”


“Do what is best for you. I went back after three weeks and it helped me take my mind off things, gave me a purpose, gave me normality and helped me escape the suffocation of my own mind. Having said that, each person’s grief is different and no two homes/minds work the same. I had an amazing workforce behind me that protected me, allowed me to have the odd melt down. I needed to return to work as it helped me feel stronger, others may not feel this. Talk to your workplace and work through what is best for you. Moving forward is the aim but on your terms.”


“Be open about what you need and communicate openly about it. Set yourself boundaries to stop work consuming you as a diversion from your grief.”


“Many people just don’t know what to say to colleagues when they return following bereavement. Be prepared for people to say all sorts of things, or alternatively brief your management on anything you would prefer people to say or not to say.”


“Take as much time off as you need and are able to, don’t let anyone force you and put pressure on you. Try reduced hours at first if you’re able to and just take your time. Take care of yourself first.” 


“I found the hardest thing about going back to work was leaving the house in the morning with no one to kiss goodbye and then to come home to an empty house.

I would leave a light on and the radio on so at least the house wasn’t silent and dark when I walked in.”


“Expect the unexpected. I wasn’t expecting how much grief impacted my ability to read and retain information, etc. I also wasn’t expecting some of the emotions that come out of nowhere. It’s tough, yet over time you’ll figure out your new routine and things will get better.”

Remember, these are suggestions and advice based on individuals’ experiences. Everyone’s grief is different, and there’s no fixed timeline, so listen to yourself and prioritise your own well-being when facing challenging decisions about when to return to work.

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. 

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