How to Manage Employee Divorce

See also: Workplace Stress

Given the regularity of modern divorces it's no surprise that divorce can have tremendously adverse effects on workplace performance.

With around 42% of marriages ending in divorce, it has become increasingly important for businesses to be able to manage divorcing employees to maintain office morale and productivity.

In this article, we’ll be looking at how divorce affects an employee's performance and what you, as an employer, can do to help the employee during this difficult time.

Managing Employees Divorce

The Effects of Divorce on Employees

It will come as no surprise that divorce is a direct cause of stress. The upheaval of leaving a relationship, when coupled with legal concerns and financial separation, can all add up and take their toll on divorcees.

According to a study by the Health and Safety Executive, stress accounts for around 45% of all working days lost due to ill health. Furthermore, between 2015 and 2016 it was recorded that around 11.7 million working days were lost to stress in the UK.

Divorce is a stressful time, combining personal, financial and legal problems into one bundle. There are few people who can juggle all these concerns and maintain a constant work rate. It’s not uncommon for those going through a divorce to experience a mixed range of emotions including sadness, anger and resentment.

At the best of times a divorce can be problematic, but if the divorce proceedings involve child access arrangements or selling a joint house, the stress can be amplified greatly.

Research indicates that divorce is dealt with similarly to grief as individuals experience a range of emotions which can affect us all differently in the workplace and at home. It is knowing how an individual deals with this stress that will set your organisation and HR department apart.

The emotional stages of divorce may present themselves in your workplace. These stages can be defined loosely as:

  • Denial - Many will find it initially hard to reconcile the fact that they are no longer with a partner who was so prominent in their lives.

  • Shock - Upon realizing that the divorce is not going to go away, many will veer between the emotions of depression and anger.

  • Roller-coaster - During the roller-coaster phase divorcees can find themselves sinking further into depression as the reality of the situation sets in.

  • Bargaining - A phase that attempts to return to a reduced form of denial, denial that the relationship isn't over and the belief that the relationship can be ‘saved’ by unrealistic compromises.

  • Letting go - Realizing that the relationship cannot be reconciled and considering the prospect of moving on from the relationship.

  • Acceptance - Accepting that the marriage is over and focusing on the future.

Needless to say, separation and divorce is not only detrimental to one's personal life but also to one’s professional life.

Even the most resilient employees can become less productive in their day-to-day work. It’s not uncommon to see work relationships strained when co-workers find the emotionality of recent employees to be difficult to work with.  No two people will go through the process of divorce in the same way.

Here are some of the common issues that may arise in employee’s performance as a result of divorce:

  • New and unusual mistakes being made
  • Frustration (which may often be directed towards co-workers)
  • Lower output
  • Inability to focus on work
  • Lower self confidence

Employee's Expectations

Between an employer and employee, there is an implicit ‘Psychological contract’ that is entered into.

As part of this ‘contract’, the two agree on a shared level of trust, reliability and compassion.

An employee who has devoted themselves to a company for many years may expect that devotion to be rewarded in the form of support when going through a difficult time such as a divorce. In some cases, the employer will throw the employee a lifeline and offer a form of compassionate leave, even if there is no such leave referenced in any contractual agreement, as a way to recognise years of reliable work.

How can employers help?

Whilst leave for bereavements is much more commonly granted, many employers do not offer the same flexibility to those suffering from the fallout of a divorce.

One survey revealed that only 10% of employees believed that their employer adequately supported them through a separation or divorce. Rather than continuing this trend, a good way to address the issue would be to initiate a HR policy to cover support and leave offered to those going through a divorce.

In some cases, organizations arrange legal support for their employees in an attempt to ease their financial concerns. Other solutions could be to offer more flexible working arrangements or hours so as to catch employees when they are able to operate most effectively. Another more hands-on option is to offer counselling or therapy to approach the divorce from a healthy perspective.

For smaller companies with less personnel and more budget constraints, an attentive line manager can provide less formal support.

The Skills You Need Guide to Stress and Stress Management

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide to Stress and Stress Management

Understand and Manage Stress in Your Life

Learn more about the nature of stress and how you can effectively cope with stress at work, at home and in life generally. The Skills You Need Guide to Stress and Stress Management eBook covers all you need to know to help you through those stressful times and become more resilient.

In the current climate of the prominence of divorce in society, it is important that employers take the lead on mitigating the impact of a difficult divorce by providing support.

By opting to support their employees, companies can help to build them back up to being productive individuals. Companies can rest assured that the support they’ve given will have gone a long way to build the mutual trust and respect present in the employee employer relationship. After all, if employers are unwilling to invest in the stability and performance of their employees, the company performance will suffer as a result.

About the Author

Elizabeth Taylor is the HR manager of a Hertfordshire based digital marketing company.

With 10 years of experience in HR for various companies, she has written about best practice in the profession for various magazines and publications.