6 Mental Wellness Tips For Returning To Work During Tough Times

Aerial view of a man weraring a blue shirt holding his head in his hands over a desk as he struggles returning to work after grief.

If you’ve suffered a loss of any kind recently, it’s natural that returning to work may prove difficult. Whether you’ve lost a loved one, gone through a divorce, received a diagnosis for a troubling illness or recovered from addiction, needing more than 3-5 business days to grieve is normal.

However unfair it is, life keeps moving regardless of what we’re going through. And this probably means returning to work unless you were fortunate enough to inherit a tidy trust fund.

Here are six tips for getting your groove back and returning to the workplace during those tough times.

1. Speak With Your Supervisor

The first step after experiencing a crisis often proves hardest, so try to initiate this step while you’re still numb from shock. Phone your supervisor and explain the problem succinctly. Tell them you’ll need time, but that you’d like to speak again upon your return.

When you do return to work, schedule the meeting as soon as possible. Prepare several suggestions for accommodations that can help you adjust while you grieve. Work together with your supervisor to establish a time frame for returning to your normal routine and what your schedule will look like in the interim.

2. Explore Flexible Work Options

Technology offers workers multiple ways to get their job done without pulling the traditional 9-5. Discuss working a flexible schedule, especially if you need time to accommodate out-of-town guests or to spend it with children to help them process their grief. Explore whether telecommuting, at least partially, could give you the privacy requisite for healing while still enabling you to complete tasks.

3. Investigate Employee Assistance Programs

Many workplaces utilize employee assistance teams to help struggling staff deal with problems of many types. Indeed, many employee assistance programs prove vital in cases where early intervention is needed to stop a problem from progressing.

If your employer offers such a program, investigate how they can help. Many will help connect you with a qualified outpatient therapist, for example. Others can provide you with coping mechanisms you can use at home or in the workplace when grief threatens to overwhelm you.

4. Let Work Encompass You

Losing yourself to a higher cause is one of the best ways to manage grief at work. Research indicates performing acts of service for others improves mental health, so why not do so for your employer? Even though you may not feel like it, delve deep into that challenging new project. You may just find that doing so takes your mind off your sorrows for a bit.

5. Identify A Safe Retreat

No matter how well you feel most of the time, grief can overwhelm you in a heartbeat. Hearing a song over the intercom which reminds you of a loved one lost to death or divorce can trigger tears. Identify a safe place you can retreat when you can’t stop the waterfalls from flowing.

Obvious places include the restroom or your car, but either location invites the possibility of running into a colleague when you’re least prepared. If possible, identify a private office to retreat to or invent a code phrase you can use to alert your supervisor you need to take a short drive to get your emotions under control.

6. Report Harassment To HR

Like it or not, many workplaces have at least one bully who may hone in on your temporary vulnerability to try to throw you off and perhaps appear favourably and move up the ladder themselves. Yes, even when you’re still in the depths of sorrow, some people may find your metaphorical sitting Shiva tedious. However, if they cross the line and make disparaging remarks or engage in discriminatory behavior, you can — and have every reason to — report this to your HR department.

If you live in a jurisdiction where you fear retaliation for reporting harassment, know your rights. You can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), but the law limits the time frame you have to do so.

Managing Tough Times In The Workplace

Returning to work when you’re still grieving isn’t easy. However, doing so is often necessary if you hope to keep a roof over your head and your lights on. By following the tips above, you may be able to make the transition back as kind to your mental health as possible.

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