A reader writes:
Nearly 3 months ago, my husband and I experienced the loss of our only child. It happened suddenly and I haven’t returned to work since. I have kept in contact with my supervisor from time to time just to check in. The standard bereavement leave is three days but they made an exception, given my extreme circumstance and the large amount of leave time I had banked.
My supervisor and the Executive Director of the advertising firm I work for have expressed interest in knowing when I might be returning, seeing as how a big project is coming up. I even get calls from the Human Resource office in an attempt to check in with me. I am not asking for help on deciding when or whether I should go back. I know that has to come from me. I am, however, unsure of how to proceed. I don’t know if I am ready to return to work. My workplace and the industry I work in is notoriously cut-throat in my area. My co-workers rarely take vacations and those who do tend to left behind and/or are eventually laid off. I am curious whether returning to work would even be worth it, considering I don’t think I can muster a passion for anything at the moment.
I had recently decided to approach my supervisor about possibly returning in a limited capacity for a brief time. My friends (they all work in advertising) say this would probably be a bad idea and is generally frowned upon. I was curious if this was an industry standard. I liked my job and I guess I still do. I would hate to burn bridges by asking for this.
Also, if I did leave the workforce at this point and wished to enter it again when things settled down a bit, how would I explain my absence during this time? Would it seem like a point of weakness to a potential employer?
I am obviously unable to really think too clearly about the issue so I thought a little insight from the prospective of a manager might give me some help in approaching this situation. Thank you for any advice you offer.
I’m so sorry. How terrible.
I think you should probably ignore your friends who say that asking to return part-time for a while is a bad idea. While I don’t know the advertising industry, I do know that your situation is uncommon enough that it’s unlikely that there’s an established custom of looking down on people doing this in your specific situation. (After all, before this happened, would you have looked down on someone who did this? I bet you wouldn’t have.) It’s more likely that your friends are applying things they’ve seen in different circumstances to your own situation, which they can’t really accurately do.
A better bet would be to have a candid conversation with your boss. Say that you’d like to talk about the possibility of coming back in a limited capacity until you’re ready for more, and ask for her candid thoughts on that. Make it clear that you understand she might not be able to say yes to that, but that you thought it could be a good way to get yourself back to work in some capacity right now. Even if she ultimately says no (which I bet she won’t; most people are desperate for a way to help people in your circumstances), you certainly won’t have burned a bridge by asking. You’ll be indicating that you’re trying to meet their needs, as well as your own — that’s not a bridge-burner.
Also, keep in mind that you have nothing to lose by trying this out. If you go back for a while and realize it wasn’t the right decision, you can just be straightforward and explain that. People will understand. So if you try it, it’s not an irreversible decision.
However, if you decide not to do that and instead decide to leave the workforce for a while, you’d explain to prospective employers later that you were dealing with a death in the family. Most employers will understand (and those that don’t are ones you don’t want to work for). That said, from a purely practical standpoint, if you’re up to going back in a limited capacity, you might find it easier than leaving altogether and looking for work later while you’re unemployed, since in general it tends to be easier to find a new job when you already have one (although other factors, like a really strong network, can cancel that out in individual cases).
But I’d just be honest with your boss about what you’d like and see if it’s possible. Assume that people probably want to help, and let them know how they can.
I’m so sorry you’re facing this entire situation and hope that this particular piece of it works out for you as best as it can.