Separation and divorce are among the most disruptive and stressful experiences anyone can go through, so it is no surprise that they are likely to have an impact on an employee’s performance at work.

As a family lawyer I see first-hand every day the repercussions that separation and divorce have on every aspect of someone’s life. There is not a hard line separating someone’s home and work lives, so employers must do more to support employees who are going through a family breakdown.

Good employers know that supporting employee wellbeing makes business sense, and is quite frankly the right thing to do. In a competitive recruitment market, employers that take a holistic approach and are more in tune with their employees have a competitive edge.

Providing support during periods of stress in an employee’s life such as divorce or bereavement, may also help to head off longer-term stress-related absences and engender a sense of loyalty from employees, which supports employee retention.

The scale of the issue

Over 100,000 people in the UK get divorced each year. The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that there were 113,505 divorces granted in England and Wales in 2021. Add to that the employees who are separating from partners they are not married to, and it is easy to see that this is an issue that will affect most workplaces.

As well as the stress and emotional toll of divorce, it can be a time-consuming process as it requires people to attend appointments with lawyers, spend time unpicking joint finances, potentially selling homes and moving house, as well as agreeing on arrangements for children.

The impact of divorce on the workplace

The Positive Parenting Alliance is raising awareness of the impact of divorce and separation at work through its HR Initiative, and is encouraging employers to do more to support employees.

It recently carried out research into the impact of family breakdown on employee performance. According to its January 2023 survey, more than 90% of those who responded said that their work performance was impacted when they went through a divorce, and an even greater number – 95% – reported that their mental health at work suffered.

The survey also revealed that more than 70% of those surveyed felt that they were less efficient at work and over 40% admitted they had to take time off work because of their separation. For some people the impact of family breakdown was even greater, with 10% saying that they stopped work altogether.

Supporting employees going through family breakdown

Most employers do not have any policies or procedures in place that outline what the organisation will do to support employees experiencing family breakdown. However, there are a lot of ways an employer can help.

The Positive Parenting Alliance recommends four changes that employers can introduce to support employees who are going through separation and divorce.

The first change is to recognise separation as a ‘life event’ in HR policy. This simple step will have a big impact, as it means that people who are experiencing separation feel recognised. This change will also help employees to realise that support is available if they need it.

When a family breaks down, routines often change, particularly when children are involved. This means that employees may need flexible working so that they can manage school and nursery pick-ups and drop-offs. Employers should be sympathetic to these requests and offer flexible working where possible. Further employees may be feeling the financial strain of having separated or divorce i.e. having to meet costs which they would otherwise rely on their partner to do so or the costs of lawyers and obtaining legal advice.

For some people divorce can cause significant mental health issues including anxiety and depression. It is prudent for employers to give divorcing employees access to emotional counselling or signpost them to organisations who offer counselling support.

There are also lots of organisations that provide guidance and support to help people separate in a compassionate and child-focused way. These include Relate, Only Mums and Dads and Citizens Advice, among others. Signposting employees to this type of support is also going to be an important step that employers can take.

Employers should be alive to the need for employees to share performance or remuneration documentation with their partner or within any proceedings. Such documentation relating to an employee should be prepared on this basis. Any confidential information (for example relating to clients) could be included in a confidential schedule, anonymised or pseudonymised, with redactions if necessary.

Organisations making positive changes

An increasing number of employers are taking steps to support employees going through a family breakdown. One of the forerunners is groceries retailer Tesco, which was an early adopter of the Positive Parenting Alliance HR Initiative.

Getting divorced can leave people feeling lost and lonely. By showing empathy and understanding, and implementing some simple adjustments to HR policies and procedures employers can do a lot to help.


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Nick Gova - Spector Constant and Williams
Nick Gova

Nick is partner and head of family law at London law firm Spector Constant & Williams. Recognised as a rising star in his field, Nick is highly skilled in all aspects of family law including divorce, financial settlements, arrangements for children, pre and post-nuptial agreements, religious divorces and separation of unmarried couples.