Top tips for going back to work after bereavement

Posted: 11/05/2018

For most people, after they have lost a loved one, there comes a point where they have to return to work. Grief affects everyone differently, with some preferring to continue working after someone close to them has died, or return soon after to have a sense of routine back in their lives, whilst others may feel the need to take weeks or months to recuperate, or struggle to get back into work at all.

Unfortunately, you may not have the luxury of having the choice as to how much time you are able to take off. Returning to work after a bereavement means you can potentially encounter a number of problems. Such as difficulties with co-workers or managers who aren’t entirely educated about grief, your own battles with your workload, or finding it difficult to stop getting distracted by sad thoughts of the person you have lost.  However, whilst going back to work may not be the easiest of things, there are ways in which it can be made easier to cope with. Other than funeral plans, we take a look at some of the things that you can do.

Preparing your co-workers

If you have been off work due to the death of a family member, it is likely that you have informed your manager or someone in the HR department about the reason why you needed to take time off work. You may not be particularly close to anyone that you work with, meaning that they may not know what is going on. This is why it is important to think through whether or not you want to ask perhaps your boss, or someone else you know at work, to inform the others about your situation so that you don’t have to bring up the bereavement if you don’t want to.  You could also ask your boss if they would be able to tell your co-workers not to talk about it if you don’t want to. This may alleviate some of the pressure on you to feel that you have to let people know about the reason why you have been off work, and it means you can focus on trying to go forward.

Have a designated quiet space


Taking 10 minutes to collect your thoughts in a room on your own can help you to work through your feelings after a bereavement.

We can’t always prepare for everything, and this means that sometimes we may suddenly get caught off guard and end up upset or overwhelmed when thinking of someone who has passed away. If you are grieving, this is much more likely to happen. If at all possible, try to allocate a designated quiet place that you could go to at work if things get tough. If you don’t have a workspace, go to an empty conference room or the bathroom, even go for a walk. After a bereavement, it is perfectly normal to feel emotional, and the best thing you can do for yourself is to let yourself work through the feelings, as opposed to trying to suppress them completely.

Prepare for small talk

If people at work know about the bereavement, but you would prefer to not talk about the death of someone close to you, then one of the best things you can do is to think of preparing small talk ideas or standard replies you can say, anything that means that you can deflect from the elephant in the room. A good way of moving the conversation away from the bereavement is by asking people about their own lives.

Develop strategies to keep focused

As we have previously mentioned, you may struggle with keeping focused when returning to work after a bereavement. You may suddenly find yourself distracted by thoughts and memories of the person who has died, making it difficult to get on with the task at hand. It’s a completely normal reaction to have when grieving, but it doesn’t make your work situation any easier. This is why it is important to consider some time management strategies to help you. Why not try the following:

  • The Pomodoro technique, which helps you to break down bigger tasks into smaller, more manageable ones by working in small intervals of usually 20-25 minutes and then having a break before returning once again to the task.
  • Writing to-do lists and you get to enjoy the satisfying feeling of ticking of things one by one, it can also help tasks to appear less overwhelming
  • Take regular breaks

Take it easy

One of the worst things you can do is to give yourself a really hard time if you are not performing particularly well at work after a bereavement. Making mistakes due to the stress and emotional turmoil you are going through is no surprise at all,  and you shouldn’t punish yourself if you do. It is unrealistic for your co-workers, managers or yourself to expect that you will be at peak performance.

It is also important to remind yourself that it is unlikely that things will suddenly get better overnight. Grief is a long process, and it is transitional. You need to give yourself time to work through the stages of bereavement. Remember that at times you may find things really challenging, and that is a completely normal thing to happen.

Communicate with your employer



Keeping in communication with your employer when going back to work after a bereavement is fully recommended to make the transition easier.


To give you peace of mind, it is well worth keeping in communication with both your manager and HR at work once you return, especially in those first few days, as well as weeks when you go back. It means that you can let them know how you are coping, and whether or not you need additional support, for example, you may decide that going back to work full-time right now is too much, and you could discuss with management about potentially doing a two to three day week for a certain period of time to help you re-adjust