Returning to work

The time comes when people begin to re-enter the routines of everyday life. Children go back to school and adults return to work.

For many, it is a financial necessity to return to work while for others it is a means of keeping occupied and creating a break from what has been an all-consuming period of grief. The workplace may be the only part of life that seems normal and routine.

But for many who have experienced a recent loss, returning to work can be difficult. Some postpone returning to their job concerned about the additional stress created by the workplace.


At a glance
  • At first the bereaved person may be in a state of shock, overwhelmed by grief. In addition to sadness, reactions can include problems with concentration and memory, fatigue and loss of confidence. So grief following suicide can lead to a short-term loss of efficiency, effectiveness and performance.
  • Unrealistic expectations from an employer are unhelpful as they create significant stress and may result in a valued employee leaving the workplace.
  • Colleagues need to be aware that grief can be erratic, intermittent and unpredictable, and that its impact lasts far longer than a few weeks.
  • With time, and with support, the employee will usually recover to take his or her place in the workplace again.
  • Just a few words, such as "I was so sorry to hear about your daughter", will be helpful.

Returning to work can be a difficult time for a person bereaved by suicide and a challenging time for employers and work colleagues. At first the bereaved person may be in a state of shock, overwhelmed by grief. In addition to sadness, reactions can include problems with concentration and memory, fatigue and loss of confidence. These reactions vary in intensity and not everyone will experience each of them. Grief comes in waves and is unpredictable; each person grieves at their own pace and intense grief cannot be confined to non-working hours. So grief following suicide can lead to a short-term loss of efficiency, effectiveness and performance. With time, and with support, the employee will usually recover to take his or her place in the workplace again.

Many employers are compassionate and offer encouragement and understanding. However, others have an unrealistic view of how long it takes to ‘get over’ a significant bereavement 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 and this can take place many months or even years after the death, re-awakening the intense grief.

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