Working While Grieving

Working While Grieving

Be prepared for waves of grief to hit at inconvenient moments.

Have you experienced the loss of a loved one? Grieving and working can be a difficult task and often leaves you feeling like you are walking through quicksand. It is a topic not often talked about, especially at work,  and you may not be aware of what to expect or how your employer might support you.  

Time Off Policies-What To Expect

According to a Society for Human Resources Management 2016 employee benefits report of SHRM members, 81 percent of organizations provided any paid days for bereavement. On average the time off looks like this:

  • On average, four days of bereavement leave were awarded following the death of a spouse or child.
  • In the event of a death of a domestic partner, foster child, grandchild, parent, sibling or grandparent, three days of bereavement leave were given.
  • One or two days of bereavement leave were given for other extended family members of a spouse's relative.
  • Many organizations did not issue bereavement leave for a friend or colleague's death.

Most people will agree this is not a lot of time to process a loss. Be sure to contact someone in your HR department to discuss your specific company’s policy and understand some situations may allow for an extended time under the FMLA guidelines.

Symptoms of grief can overwhelm you

Back At Work While Grieving

Grief manifests itself in emotional and physical pain, some that are predictable, and some that may come as a shock to you. After experiencing a loss, it is normal to have a plethora of emotions or feelings that you may not understand.

To understand the grieving process, it is important to understand these physical and emotional symptoms. Only when you understand them can you apply strategies to maintain control and success in your career.

Physical Symptoms of Grief to Watch Out For

  • Low Energy- You may be feeling exhausted and weak since grief expends a profuse amount of energy, causing fatigue.
  • Lack of Sleep- Nightmares, daydreams, and hypersomnia are all possible symptoms that cannot be easily healed with sleeping pills.
  • Digestive Issues- You can either have a loss of appetite or the craving to overeat, followed by indigestion and acid reflux.
  • Increased Anxiety- This may form itself into angina, headaches, shortened breath, or tightness feeling in your throat. This can increase or cause fear of what caused the loss.
  • Stress-The stress you may feel after experiencing a loss is much more like a roller coaster than everyday stress with uncomfortable peaks that may last an unpleasantly long time.

Normal Emotional Reactions Post-Grief

Nearly everyone has heard of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief, but not everyone feels every step in the same order. These steps show in a myriad of ways, including:

  • Numbness- The first emotion after a great loss is a shock or numbness while you deny whatever tragedy happened. This helps you not to get too overwhelmed until it wears off
  • Yearning- Sadness, depression, and a longing to have that same closeness with a loved one is one of the more powerful and lasting emotions.
  • Guilt- As you struggle to try to find the reason behind the loss, you may begin to bargain and develop regret since the tragedy happened to your loved one, and not yourself.
  • This can also invoke relief or helplessness if the loss was a result of long-term pain for your loved one.
  • Obscurity- Depression can make you develop absent-mindedness or forgetfulness, make things difficult to understand and impact your decision-making ability.
  • Anger- The biggest and most common response to grief is anger, which can manifest as irritation, frustration, and anxiety.

How to Limit Grief from Impacting Your Work

Although grief can impact your everyday life, there are steps that you can take to alleviate these effects of grief. These simple steps can assist in maintaining your success and health:

  • Eat healthily and drink plenty of water
  • Take time away from extra projects, committees or other taxing activities and understand these grief symptoms
  • Blog/write out negative emotions
  • Ask for support from loved ones
  • Increase organization by following a planner, using reminders and alarms, double-checking work
  • Get plenty of sleep to increase your energy
  • Work in spurts so you can get tasks done without exhausting yourself

If you are grieving and trying to work at the same time, I strongly suggest you contact a professional who can further detail how to best manage your grief and maintain success.


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  • Great tips! I think the best way to deal with the loss of a loved one is to seek help. You don’t have to do this alone. It’s okay to grieve but if it’s already impacting your life, then I think you should already speak to a psychiatrist.

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