It’s hard to manage your responsibilities while trying to cope with a major disruption in your life. Executive Coach Pat Roberts says it’s crucial to be honest with your manager and your colleagues.

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“When a life-changing event happens, you should inform your manager about what’s happening in your life. If you are absent without providing information, it creates a really bad impression. You should then write down a list of action steps you need to take over the next few weeks. List the things that you need to do, what you need others to do and how long you expect the process to take.”

Once you’ve made this list, you will be able to work out a reasonable timeframe for your return to work. How soon you return to work will be governed by practical, personal or cultural circumstances.

“Most employment contracts include annual leave, sick leave, family responsibility leave and the potential to take unpaid leave if necessary. Think through your options for the amount of time you need. Once you have estimated this, inform your manager and put in the formal leave applications for the types of leave you plan to take,” says Roberts.

Steps to navigate the workplace:

Communicate 

Your colleagues will likely empathise with you. They can also be a source of support. Share with them only as much as you feel comfortable with so that they know what’s going on and can offer to assist where possible.

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Seek support

Talking to someone who is not a member of your family about what you’re going through can also be helpful as they will have a less emotional perspective.

If you feel that you are struggling to cope with the event in your life, it’s advisable to seek help from a reliable confidante or a psychological expert. Trying to cope with things that are not your area of expertise sets you up for failure and could make things worse. Tell you manager what support you are receiving so that they know you are actively seeking help.

Stay in touch 

Communicate with your manager at least once a week to assure them that you are still committed and not just taking time off without a compelling reason. Update your manager on the situation, your current frame of mind, and give an indication of how soon you plan to return to work.

Assist your colleagues where possible 

When you leave the office without planning, there are bound to be things you were working on that have to be picked up by others. It’s important to be able to help them with information they may need in order to continue with that work. Try to be available to give input in areas for which you are responsible.

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Take on work where you can 

If you aren’t ready to return to work full time, ask your manager if you can work from home or work half-days if your role allows it. If your manager agrees, it’s important to show that you are delivering.

Return to work

When you get back to the office, have a face-to-face meeting with your manager to thank them for the support during the crisis and provide an update on your situation. Give your assurance that you are fully back and will be delivering.

Get back to delivering at your best so that everyone in the team feels you are fully engaged and supportive of them.