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Work life balance. When you need to put life first.

29 Nov 11:00 by Dene Gambotto

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Returning to work after my father passed away has made me reflect on how we handle grief in the workplace. 

Losing my Dad was not sudden, MND and Frontal Temporal Dementia had been stealing him away from us for the last 12 months. So my experience with grief has been a gradual one.

When he was diagnosed in February this year, I made the decision to pull back from work at iknowho to spend time with him.

I chose to work from his home – I even took him to a candidate meeting once (he sat in the car outside) – all so I could spend time with him.  It was a win/win situation as he enjoyed watching me work. He liked to hear about what I was working on and who I was helping.

I was grateful for this time and the flexibility my team encouraged me to take.

I was transparent with our clients and candidates – explaining that I may not be as responsive to emails or calls.  I took on only the work I could manage. I passed work to colleagues or we turned work away.  This new style of working lasted around five months before Dad passed away.  I was grateful that I pivoted my life towards the grief rather than losing myself in work. 

I know I was fortunate to be in a position as the boss to take this time – I know that if I worked for someone else it may have meant resigning to take this time to be with Dad.  So if you’re not the boss I encourage you to chat to HR re taking some owed Leave (carers or annual leave) by way of shorter workdays. Looking at ways to even reduce hours and pay for a period to allow you the flexibility. 

 

The last year taught me this about navigating grief in the workplace…

  1. Talking openly and acknowledging my grief allowed my team to truly support me. 

  2. Rather than someone asking how can I help?  The most helpful were those who just did something …turn up with a cooked meal, a thoughtful handwritten card or sending some well-timed flowers.

  3. The support prior to a loved one passing is equally, if not more important than after their passing.

  4. I said no to work social events that weren’t absolutely necessary – I knew this time was short so I prioritised knowing that soon it will all be over.  I have no regrets.

  5. Showing my vulnerability to my team strengthened our bond

  6. “No one shoe fits all approach”, what I needed was a flexible work arrangement rather than a set number of days “bereavement leave”.

  7. If you’re a manager I encourage you to pro-actively come to your colleague who’s navigating grief with a flexible work arrangement or suggestions on how the business can be supportive

  8. Financially it wasn’t a good decision but my heart is full and I think long term that matters more to one’s happiness.

  9. Coming back to work can be a really good thing for grief - I valued the lightness of coming into work, the normality…a space where I could be in control and doing what I love to do.   So if a colleague wants to return quickly don’t stop them as it may be just what they need – perhaps encourage them to plan a short break around 6-8 weeks after returning to look forward to

 

I’m now back to work – grateful for the unwavering support my team and clients provided me and I’m ready to pay them back in spades.