As an HR professional for over 10 years I have encountered many situations where employees have taken time off due to the death of an immediate family member. Most often, the time off allotted was between 3-5 days. If an employee had other leaves available such as vacation time, then they would be out a little bit longer. However, once they returned to work, it was to be business as usual right? I never realized just how far from the truth "business as usual" or "back to normal" was until I experienced my own deep loss.
After Frank died the initial support I received from my coworkers and leaders was absolutely amazing. The outpour of condolences, the support during the rosaries and funeral and the many cards and monetary gifs were beyond anything I would expect to receive. I was truly touched by the care and compassion from everyone within my organization.
It took me 3 months to return to work. I used up all my bereavment leave, vacation and then went into FMLA as I was under the care of a psychologist. When the time came for me to return to work I knew in my mind and in my heart I WAS NOT READY. However, I didn't have much of a choice. I no longer had Frank's income to rely on so I knew I needed to support myself from here on out.
The first 3 months back to work were very challenging to say the least. On that first day back, I had the feelings of being a new employee. Fear of so many unknowns. I'm still not sure what that meant but it's the best way I can describe how I felt walking into the office that first day. The moment Frank died, silence was my biggest enemy. Not hearing any noise was like music blasting in my ear. Being alone was also a big fear of mine. But so was being around too many people. Sound confusing? Imagine how I felt! So, being back in the office definitely took some time to navigate through and get back into my daily routine, which by the say never happened. I had to find my way through my "new normal". My beliefs, my perspectives on life, how I felt about the work I did, all changed. I also struggled because there came a point where support and compassion for my grief was replaced with expecation to perform and be productive and to leave my grief at home.
Let me make it clear that this was no fault of my employer. The reality is that most, if not all employers don't have a program in place to allow for employees to transition back to work after suffering deep loss. The bereavement leave is all that employers are expected or think they need to provide and most believe that the time off should be enough. When an employee comes back to work that means they are ready, right? WRONG!
Grief is so unique to each individual which means how people grieve and how long they grieve will never be the same. But until organizations get that, and create a program that allows for their employees to be "human", almost always, employees performance will drop, motivation will diminish and safety could even be compromised. You see, your mind can't work right if your heart is still broken. Take it from me...I know.