Losing someone you love, then having to go back to work, can be an exhausting and disorienting transition. But for most of us, it is a necessity. What can make it even harder is any worries you might have about taking too much time off—either out of guilt, or because of pressure from your employer.
While companies and corporate America have gotten better about understanding the importance of their employees’ mental health, with some even offering paid mental health days, sometimes you still need to advocate for yourself.
There are several proactive things you can do now to make sure your workplace is a supportive environment that allows you to do your best work while getting time to grieve.
Have the bereavement leave talk as soon as possible
Grief experts suggest at least 20 days of bereavement leave when people have lost an immediate family member. Of course, virtually no U.S. workers have 20 days of paid bereavement leave. But it’s a number to keep in mind as you plan the months ahead to give yourself the space and time to heal whenever you can.
Schedule a meeting as soon as possible with your boss and your human resources rep to help you clarify your options: how many days your company provides in paid leave, whether you’ll want to take additional unpaid leave, and when you’ll be taking those days.
If your company does not offer paid bereavement leave at all, there may be something you can work out so you can have the time to grieve and not worry about the financial end of things. Discuss the possibility of an advance on your salary, for example, or working part-time for a while.
Ask for a more flexible schedule
When you do return to work, you may want to talk to your immediate boss about a more flexible schedule or days when you can work from home.
Although grief affects all of us differently, it still takes a physical and mental toll. Not being able to focus, sudden overwhelming emotions, and an inability to take care of one’s health are just some of the symptoms of grief.
Having the flexibility to work from home on days when the grief is too much to bear or being able to extend deadlines can really help.
Be honest with the people you work with closely
While you may not want to send out a memo to everyone in the company with the news, telling those you interact with most is something you definitely want to do.
You don’t need to get into details. Nor do you need to express the extent of your pain. But letting them know what you’re going through, so they know what to expect, can squash any confusion on their end.
The toll of grief can be intense and unpredictable—by communicating clearly from the start, everyone will understand that.
Going a step further, it’s a good idea to have someone on your team to advocate for you on days that you just can’t handle everything on your own. For some, communicating with a close colleague is easier than communicating with their boss.
Be clear about your boundaries
Whether it’s your boss or fellow co-workers, setting boundaries when you’re grieving is paramount. Let them know the best way they can be there for you.
Some people don’t like to be asked daily how they’re coping, while other people appreciate a daily check-in. As you go through the grieving process, you’ll come to realize what is best for you. Then you can let those around you know what is OK and not OK during this difficult time.
Although we all experience grief at some point in our lives, death and grieving are still taboo subjects that tend to make people uncomfortable.
Because of this, having boundaries isn’t just healthy for you, but can help those in your office to be there for you in a more meaningful way—and not fear that they’re not saying or doing the wrong thing.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
While not everyone in the office may be sympathetic to your grief or willing to go out of their way to make things easier, it’s still important to ask for help when you need it.
Depending on who you lost and that void in your life, functioning at full capacity may be months down the road—or it may never come back at all.
We don’t get over losing someone we love, nor do we move on. We move forward, we fulfill our responsibilities, and ultimately we engage with life fully again, but we are, in many ways, forever changed.
How this will affect your work remains to be seen, so asking for help when you need it should be something you learn to become comfortable with. It’s human to need people sometimes.
You may be eligible for free bereavement support. Empathy can help with everything from funeral planning to estate administration, with step-by-step guidance and real-time expert support. Many people get free premium access to Empathy as a benefit with their life insurance claim. We partner with New York Life, Guardian Life Insurance Company, Bestow, Lemonade, and other leading carriers. When you make your life insurance claim, talk to your representative about whether Empathy is a benefit they offer.
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