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I’m grieving, and I’m at work


In many cultures, workplaces are considered to be places of reason and productivity that prefer to exclude emotion. With this understanding, grief becomes a personal issue that should be experienced in our private worlds, such as the privacy of our own homes. However, if you have experienced the loss of a loved one, it is highly likely that you will find yourself grieving at home and in your workplace, and it’s important to find a way to reconcile this.

Let people know

The first thing that you could do is let your colleagues know that someone in your life has died. You can do this personally, via your manager, or even via email. This will help give you space to feel and react, which may occur unexpectedly at times, while eliciting understanding and potentially support from those around you.

Express what you need

We have individual ways of expressing and coping with grief.

Some people may want to continue their relationship with the person who has died by keeping them up front in their minds, environment and conversations. While other people may feel the need to separate themselves from the death and their grief. Also, these states may change, or apply only to particular environments.

If you’re able, it’s important to let people at work know what you need. Whether or not you would like them to inquire as to how you’re feeling, and ask about the person who is now deceased. This will help colleagues respond to you, and help you, as you will be receiving the type of responses that you need.

This may not be something that you want to do personally, so you may ask a colleague, your manager, human resources or someone you trust to convey the message for you.

Your managers need to understand grief

This is not your role, but unless someone has felt grief, they may not understand your reactions.

It is likely that you’ll have periods where you can’t concentrate, where work feels unimportant and meaningless and you feel isolated. At other times, you may be comfortable focusing on simple tasks, or being immersed in solving a problem. Strong emotional reactions can occur and they may be aimed at people close to you in the office. It is also common to feel anxious, have trouble making decisions, and be angry. As mentioned before, you may experience all of these states at different times.

The Compassionate Friends of Victoria listed ways that a workplace can help employees and we’ve included them in this post about How employers can help grieving staff.

Find out what assistance your workplace offers

Workplaces will have a Personal Leave policy that may include Carer’s Leave and Bereavement Leave. Many workplaces offer an employee assistance program, which includes counselling sessions that are confidential and free to the employee. At best, your employer may even have a policy or process for grief support and be able to provide a supportive workplace culture.

Don’t be too hard on yourself

We all have ideas, personally and culturally, about what ‘healthy grieving’ looks like, especially when we’re in a public place such as work. The reality can be very different and you may not know how you will respond, and it is likely that your response will vary over time.

Don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re not grieving in a way that you think you should, it’s a potentially long and complex process, and you don’t need additional pressure placed on yourself.

More information

The central ideas for this piece, including describing work as a place of reason that excludes emotion and therefore grief; the ways of expressing or coping with grief; and a policy for grief support; were based on by John Bottomley’s article, “What’s Love got to do With it?” Grief in Australian Workplaces. The article was published in the Summer 2009 edition of Grief Matters, a quarterly journal published by the Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement, which is available by subscription.

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