Regardless of what happens in our personal lives, the wheels of business continue turning. And while isolating ourselves as we cope with trauma tempts even the most dedicated among us, most people’s fiscal reality makes returning to work even while still healing a necessity.
Numerous traumatic events can lead to short- or long-term absences from the workplace. Integrating yourself back into your previous work routine takes time, especially when having your mind on other things impacts your focus and concentration.
When You’re in Mourning
The death of someone we love leaves us reeling — losing a loved one changes our world forever. However, with many companies offering only between three to five days of bereavement leave, many people return to work while they still grieve. Hourly workers who don’t receive paid leave may need to return only a day or two following a death in order to prevent losing more days’ worth of wages.
Jumping back in at your prior productivity levels probably just won’t be possible for a while. Good bosses recognize the importance of healing time and will cut additional slack to those going through the loss of a loved one. Expect to make some mistakes while you’re still in mourning, and treat yourself kindly when errors do occur.
Dealing with coworkers can frazzle our already-fried feelings during this time. Decide before returning to work how much you feel comfortable sharing and who you feel comfortable sharing it with. Certainly, your boss needs to know, but there’s no need to make your loss the hot water cooler topic of the day. Remember, you have the right to share only as much as you’re comfortable sharing with coworkers, as well as the right to politely refuse to answer questions.
Try the following
steps to keep yourself sane during work if you’re still mourning:
- Get help from a friend: Partnering with one trustworthy coworker whom you
know you can count on can help take some stress off you during the
- Find a safe space: Scope
out a quiet comfort zone prior to coming back. When strong emotions well
up, make sure you have a quiet place where you can cry if you need to do
- Take extra breaks:
Most employers will understand your need to take occasional extra breaks
while you’re still in the bereavement period.
- Use flex and work-from-home opportunities: If your employer offers flex time or
work-from-home options, inquire about them. Flex time allows you to work
when you’re feeling well enough to do so, which may mean getting to work
from home at 3:00 a.m. when you can’t sleep. Just be careful to avoid
turning working from home into a crutch — the longer you wait to
return to the office, the harder taking those first steps through the door
- Enhance your desk area: Finally, place desk items you can look at to
improve your mood.
When You’re Mentally Spent
In most cases nowadays, employers must allow time off for employees to seek treatment for mental illnesses and substance abuse problems. This is a great change, but it doesn’t make those first few days back following an intensive treatment plan any easier or less awkward for those in recovery.
As when you’ve lost a
loved one, you maintain ultimate control over whom, if anyone, you confide in
regarding your recovery. Recovery records fall under HIPPA laws, meaning your
employer can’t require you to divulge any of your specific medications or
counselor notes — they only need to know the dates and location of your
However, building a support network of coworkers can greatly benefit those in recovery who are just returning to the world of work. Of course, no requirement says you must tell anyone other than your boss. If creating a cover story makes integration back into the workforce easier, by all means, use one.
Whatever you choose to do from a social standpoint, it’s crucial you avoid overworking to the point of burnout, as stress can trigger mental illness relapses or urges to use. Getting back to work can be a great distraction after a tough time, but it’s important to maintain that work-life balance.
When You’re Physically Ill
Returning to work following a lengthy physical illness or traumatic injury also holds special challenges. Returning too soon after illness or injury may prolong recovery or even cause further damage. Difficulties in mental focus and concentration often follow traumatic injuries. Some long-term illnesses and serious injuries cause patients debilitating fatigue that can render completing tasks normally finished in an hour or two into full-day projects.
Be gentle with yourself while you heal. If returning on a part-time basis is possible, take advantage of reducing your hours while you continue to recuperate. Likewise,take advantage of any work-from-home time your employer offers.
Facing the First Day
Returning to work after a prolonged absence for any reason causes feelings of anxiety and insecurity. Accept these feelings as normal, and allow yourself to feel them —and then let them go once they’ve been processed. By treating yourself gently through the grieving or recovery process, you’ll soon regain your previous production levels and gain the self-confidence that stems from once more embracing your purpose in life after loss.