With 42 percent of marriages ending in divorce, according to the Office for National Statistics, it’s likely that you will regularly have employees experiencing this life-changing event.
But why should employers care about this?
Not only are one-third of adults at risk of developing depression at the onset of separation and divorce, but it can take up to two years for mental distress levels to return to pre-separation norms (Institute for Social and Economic Research, 2014).
A survey by the PPA (Positive Parenting Alliance) found that nine out of 10 employees felt a family breakdown had greatly impacted on their ability to do their job.
Ninety-five percent said their mental health suffered when they went through a divorce or separation. Around three-quarters felt less efficient at work, and four in 10 needed to take time off to deal with issues surrounding the separation.
More than half (52%) feared that they might lose their job as a result of the separation or would need to leave voluntarily. Eleven per cent had stopped work altogether, yet only nine per cent of employers had specific policies or support for separating employees in place.
It is estimated that divorce costs the UK economy up to 46 billion every year, so there is a clear correlation between employee wellbeing and business productivity. Therefore it makes good business sense for employers to acknowledge the role they can play in assisting their employees through the upheaval of a relationship breakdown.
The implications for employers can be placed into four key areas: the cost of replacing a staff member who leaves due to divorce, controlling operational costs, managing the performance of staff and staff morale and maintaining the company’s reputation.
Within most organisations, the way an individual who is experiencing a divorce or separation is treated will be dependent on their line manager’s approach, as often there is no formal policy or procedure.
Yet divorce is commonly listed as one of the top five most stressful events a person can experience, similar to a family bereavement. Most employees who suffer the death of a family member have the right to a “reasonable” amount of time off work. Divorce can often be as traumatic as bereavement as it brings the same sense of loss and change, as such, it should be viewed with similar compassion.
So what steps can be taken to provide support?
The overall aim of the organisation should be to minimise stress and increase support for the individual. It is imperative that divorce now needs to be formally incorporated into HR policies however it is equally important to remember that each person’s response to divorce is different. Some employees will feel threatened by the prospect of losing their source of security and familiar everyday lifestyle. They could benefit from being assigned less stressful projects at work and given more flexibility, or even some time off, to help them deal with their loss.
Others, who find solace in work and find themselves able to stay focused and productive, will welcome the mental distraction that work provides from the emotional responses that they are going through in their personal life.
So whilst each individual will respond to their situation differently, the organisation should have clear procedures in place to follow when necessary.
Have a policy and guidelines
Policies should recognise separation and divorce as a major life event. The HR department should have clear information and policies to guide employees going through a divorce. This ought to include details of absenteeism due to legal appointments, court appearances, childcare changes etc.
Provide training to senior management
Senior staff members/managers should be given training/workshops to be best able to support their divorcing employees appropriately. This could include training in mental wellbeing tools and strategies.
Offer practical support
Be open to discussing practical steps to minimise stress. Don’t make assumptions about how well the individual is coping. HR, OH and line managers should compassionately enquire about how the person is feeling and whether or not there are any adjustments to working arrangements that could be made to support them. This could be through flexible working hours or a work from home temporary arrangement where possible. Provide a private area available for employees to take confidential phone calls relating to the divorce. Clearly state that their wellbeing is a priority to you and that the organisation is available for support.
Consider partnering with a Divorce expert/coach either on a retainer or referral basis
26 percent of employees said they would have greatly benefitted from a dedicated confidential divorce wellbeing support service such as coaching, self help programmes or counselling. (HR Implications of Managing Divorce Wellbeing in the Workplace, Boudica & Eir, 2017). This would provide additional help and allow an employee to feel fully supported, secure and valued within the company.
Provide a lending library of resources
This could be a variety of self help books, audiobooks, workbooks etc that could be borrowed when needed. Details of available apps for meditations etc would also be useful, as well as podcasts focusing on divorce recovery.
By recognising separation and divorce as major life events and having policies and procedures in place to support their employees during this time, employers in turn will see better staff retention, increased productivity and be able to strengthen their reputation.
Linzi Kavanagh is a divorce and empowerment coach for women going through a divorce or relationship breakdown. Linzi is a certified psychologist, counsellor, life coach, EFT practitioner and NLP Master Practitioner.
Linzi works with clients to help them release negativity, let go of their ex and reclaim their identity. Her psychology and mindset-led approach supports the emotional recovery from a life-changing event like divorce and relationship breakdown and helps women not only to survive, but thrive and rebuild their lives.