Gradual Return to Work: did you know about this?

Here are some ideas for returning to work after a longer-term leave of absence due to grief and loss.

As a counsellor you can assist your client with helping them be aware of what to expect when they return to work and how they can be successful with this endeavor.

You can mention the following to them or your client may tell you these facts.

  • You may have to do upgrading on computer systems and programs
  • You may need to take some courses to be updated on workplace safety modules
  • You may be required to speak with the Human Resources person to answer questions and attest to your improved state of wellbeing

From a GRIEF AND LOSS perspective there are additional concerns that may hinder the success of this endeavor.

  • FEAR of what will people say to me about my loss
  • FEAR of what will I say to my co-workers about my loss
  • FEAR I won’t be able to do my job effectively
  • ANXIETY just thinking about returning to work
  • ANXIETY that is debilitating to the extent I am having panic attacks
  • ANXIETY that prevents me from driving into the parking lot

Now that you have a few ideas of how a client might feel when returning to work; what can you do to help them?

  1. Have them walk through the process of getting up and getting ready for work and then all that they would do to get to work.  Your client can do this in their mind and then tell you what they did.  This gives them an opportunity to “feel” any emotions, anxieties and fears that may arise.  As a counsellor you can address any concerns in your office and work on them over time.
  2. Next, after you have delved into step one, go further into the process of going into the building.  As in step one, your client can view this process in their mind and then say out loud what they did; where did they go, who did they potentially meet and how far did they get into the building?  Ask and address any concerns that arose from this exercise.  
  3. Next, continue with your client going to different places in their place of employment and addressing all of the concerns that arise.  Your client can also do this themselves when they are alone as a way to decrease the feelings associated with actually returning to work.

This gives you a few ideas to help your client help themselves. In the future, they can perhaps set up a trial run with their employer and go into their place of employment when not many people are there.  

If individuals have insurance coverage and have been off of work for an extended period of time, many times they are given options to gradually return to work, starting with a few days a week at reduced hours and over a designated amount of time be fully engaged in their job.


 Canadian Human Rights Commission: A Guide to Managing the Return to Work


This link provides several ideas to consider based on what an employer may require and request from an employee based on different scenarios and reasons for a need to return to work.

There are also ideas for the employee to be aware of as in supplying information to their employer.  Note; this is a guide only and provides food for thought and addresses different concepts to what this writer has mentioned.

All my best,

Barbara Gillett Saunders

Grief Counsellor/Thanatologist