Supporting someone returning to work

Supporting someone returning to work who has attempted suicide

A person returning to work after a suicide attempt is likely to feel isolated and alone. They may also feel ashamed or embarrassed. 

Any genuine care and concern you can offer will help the person feel connected and can lower the risk of another suicide attempt. Include them in meetings and social events or ask their opinion on work issues – anything to make them feel like a valued member of the team. 

Keep in touch with the employee on a regular basis to see how they are – whether they are taking time off or have returned to work. 

Return to Work Plan

A structured approach to returning to work is essential, and any plan should be a collaborative effort between the employee and manager.
Start by setting realistic goals and objectives, as well as a process for monitoring their progress and fine-tuning the plan.

Learn more at Heads Up
Making adjustments

By law, employers must make changes to the workplace to enable someone who has had mental health issues to remain at or return to work – providing they can continue to meet the core requirements of their role.
These changes, can be temporary or permanent. 

Learn more at Heads Up

Supporting someone returning to work after a suicide loss

Many employers are compassionate and offer flexibility and understanding. However, others have an unrealistic view of how long it takes to ‘get over’ a significant loss like suicide and may not be tolerant of the impact of grief.

Unrealistic expectations from an employer are particularly unhelpful as they create significant stress and may result in a valued employee leaving the workplace.

It's also good to keep in mind that there may be an inquest following the suicide and this can take place months, even years after the death, possibly re-awakening intense grief.

As an employer, what should I be prepared for?

  • Grief following suicide can lead to a short-term loss of efficiency and performance.It’s hard to concentrate and retain information when grieving and errors may occur.
  • Increased support – check in regularly to see what would be most helpful to them during this time e.g. are coping with their workload, do they need any additional support
  • Emotional distress: your employee may get emotional during meetings or in front of colleagues. This is a normal part of grieving and to be expected. Let them know they are free to excuse themselves or take a short break whenever they need to.
  • Familiarise yourself with suicide and grief: this way you can have an idea of what your employee is experiencing and what would be most helpful to them.
  • Altered work hours: your employee may want to work only half days or half weeks for a short period

As a co-worker, what should I do?

Do
  • Familiarise yourself with suicide loss to have some idea what your co-worker is going through.
  • Give your co-worker space and time without isolating them - invite them to lunch or coffee, but don't be pushy.
  • Check in regularly and ask how they're going.
  • Be aware of cultural differences.
  • Be yourself around them - treat them the same as you normally would.
Don't
  • Be surprised of their intense feelings of grief, often when they least expect it, including at work.
  • Overwhelm them with attention when they first come back – a simple 'welcome back' is enough.
  • Ask too many questions - if they want to talk about it with you, they will.
  • Try to “fix” things.
Learn more at Heads Up

Please note: Web copy adapted from The American Hospice Foundation, The Bereaved Employee: Returning to Work by Helen Fitzgerald and Anglicare's Living Beyond Suicide brochure, Helping an Employee Return to Work

Crisis support

If you are in an emergency, or at immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, please contact emergency services on 000. Other services include:


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