Grieving and growing in the hybrid workplace

By The Space Between Us

Is there a way that we can soften the reality of grieving in the hybrid workplace? And more than that, can we still find a way to grow in the midst of it all? Our TSBU writers team up with TSBU counselling psychologist Ivy Mugambi to find our way through.

Nothing can quite prepare us for grief. The loss of someone we love, the loss of a dream job, or the loss of a way of life often affects us in ways we could never imagine. But there is always hope, there is always growth, and we can still find our way through – even in a world that is shifting like never before. 

The way we grieve has changed

There’s no doubt: the lines have been blurred. Where once it was easier to draw distinct lines between our work and our private lives, the advent of remote work, the “new normal”, and even the newer trend of the hybrid workplace, have smudged the edges we once knew. And this is exactly why TSBU counselling psychologist Ivy Mugambi says we should “gift ourselves with self-compassion”.

In practicing self-compassion in our personal lives, rituals are an important step towards accepting our new realities and all the emotions that come with it. In every culture, rituals have always been accepted as a mark of change, and honouring those we love, but today’s world asks that we bring some of those comforting rituals into the hybrid workplace too.

Mugambi says that rituals and routines can anchor us as we move through the highs and lows of our emotions. “Think of any act that replenishes your body, mind, and soul. It could be anything from exercise and gardening to playing music, prayer, and meditation.” One ritual that leans into the home as well as the workplace is to create a dedicated space in a room or on your desk for quiet moments of reflection. In How to grieve in a socially-distanced world, we explore more ways to create new rituals.

Navigating grief in the hybrid workplace 

When your bereavement leave ends and you find yourself back at your desk, facing the everyday demands of work and productivity, you can take comfort in the knowledge that there are ways that you can make the most of the hybrid workplace – and soften the difficulties during your grief.

Boundaries have become a little more challenging to establish and maintain in the hybrid workplace. But as challenging as it may be to set your boundaries, remember that they create not only a sense of safety for yourself, but can also foster clarity for you and the team you’re working with. Take the time to think about what is acceptable for you during this time, and communicate it in a way that is comfortable for you – even if you have to put it in an email.

Isolation is something that many of us experience in the midst of our grief. Even when we’re in the company of others who have faced their own grief at one time or another, we can still feel a disconnection. We all work through grief in our unique ways. When the hybrid workplace comes into play, it often adds to these feelings of isolation. So if you’re feeling the need for more social connections with your colleagues, consider putting yourself forward for a team collaboration, a brainstorm, networking opportunities, or ask a mentor to take you under their wing. 

Burnout is a concern not just in grief, but in the hybrid workplace too. While stress is already heightened by the trauma of loss, the hybrid workplace makes many of us feel as though we need to constantly push the extra mile to prove that we’re not taking advantage of the self-directed nature of the new normal. Check in with yourself often, be aware of the signs of burnout, and keep your channels of communication as open and as clear as you can with a team leader you trust. The Burnout and Boundaries for Young Professionals podcast with TSBU clinical psychologist Lwanele Khasu is well worth a listen too!

Better breaks are the new normal too in the hybrid work model. Place your focus on productivity rather than on the appearance of seeming busy. Even in the best of times our minds need a break, but it’s even more important when we’re grieving. ‘Grief brain’ can often make it harder to concentrate, so take the time to update your calendar with scheduled breaks for a walk, a little gardening, a journaling session, or even a quick nap if that’s what you need.

Transforming grief into growth

‘The flower that blooms in adversity is the rarest and most beautiful of all.’ – Mulan. You may have heard these words before, and although they may not ring true for you right now, scientists are actively studying what they call adversarial growth. Because it really is possible for us become stronger in our struggles.

To keep growing as a person within the hybrid workplace, Mugambi encourages us to feel, to experience the emotions associated with what we have lost. Because our feelings affect our thoughts, which in turn affect our behaviour. “When we name our emotions, it allows us to release the trapped feelings, redirect that energy positively, to develop emotional flexibility through life’s ups and downs, and ultimately, to heal, and thrive.”

Here are the questions Mugambi says we should ask ourselves as we grow through grief:

  1. What has changed? Acknowledge that losses come with change and that something in your life is now different. This mental acceptance allows you to embrace the facts of your reality.
  2. What am I feeling? Use feeling words to name the emotions connected to the changes in your life. Am I sad, angry, lonely, relieved, or frustrated? This is critical for your healing journey because it allows you to accept all the uncomfortable parts of yourself without judging.  Journaling and mindfulness are just some ways to place your feelings in the present. 
  3. What are my feelings telling me about my deepest longings? In asking this question, we start to recognise that there are values and lessons attached to our feelings. For example, the loneliness, sadness, and pain that is felt after the death of a loved one may be a reminder of how deeply we value family, friendships, and in general, healthy human connections. 

Mugambi also gently reminds us that grief is something we go through, not under, over, or around. So please remember to keep pulling your focus back to the things that feel nurturing and comforting to you. And remember that it’s more than okay to reach out for professional help when you start feeling overwhelmed.

For clinical guidance in working through your grief, take a look at the TSBU Dealing with Loss and Grief online workshop to help you build skills and face these challenging times one day at a time. Or simply start by reading Ambiguous loss: Living with unresolved grief with TSBU clinical psychologist Bongiwe Sokhela as she breaks down the uncertainty of ambiguous loss.