Employee Wellness: Limit the Effects of Divorce in the Workplace


When a marriage falls apart, the ordeal of separation is upsetting and difficult for an individual to navigate. Unsurprisingly, the emotional stress caused by this knotty and complicated process often has a negative impact on the life of the employee in the workplace.

How are businesses affected by a divorcing employee?
Those experiencing divorce are known to suffer from a similar series of emotions to the seven stages of grief. These are generally understood as the following:

  • Shock or disbelief
  • Denial
  • Bargaining
  • Guilt
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Acceptance/hope for the future

With these stages in mind, what can a HR professional do to ensure they handle the employee with care, whilst also limiting the repercussive impacts the situation can have on the productivity and morale of the wider workforce?

The impact of divorce on productivity
The relationship between business productivity and the wellbeing of employees is well reported. In a study conducted by Xerox HR services, 59% of global employers cited increasing productivity as the top objective for their workplace wellbeing schemes. With employers treating wellbeing of their workforce with increasing importance, divorce should take focus in the wellbeing structure as it is no longer an uncommon occurrence, with rates in North America at almost 50%.

Moreover, due to the emotional and timely implications of the separation process, which often requires lengthy decision making about finance, property and parenting, the effects of divorce have been shown to cost North American businesses over $6 billion each year.

Statistics Canada revealed that both men and women who had experienced divorce were almost three times more susceptible to depression for up to four years after the break up. The stress of divorce has been proven to cause physical problems too. Organizations like the American Diabetes Association asserted that stress as a result of poor relationships worsened symptoms of diabetes in those afflicted, whilst other research has found that relationship stress can cause lower immune function.

In order to deal with the emotional and physical effects of divorce, as well as the additional administrative demands such as meetings with lawyers, employees may require lengthy periods of time out of work. This inevitably results in holes within the workforce.

Those going through a break up may also find that professional relationships are a source of extra tension and stress, as the strains of separation make it more difficult to cope with criticism or professional disagreements. Ultimately, the many obstacles of divorce cause a decline in productivity, as those experiencing divorce may have trouble concentrating and getting things right first time. Despite the evidence for a supportive internal business policy structure for divorce, a newly published Com Res survey showed that only a meagre 10% of workers felt their employers offered support for those going through divorce.

Considering the personal and specific nature of these circumstances, an attempt to implement general legislation is impractical. Aside from offering compassionate leave, employers should be aware of alternative means for supporting their employees such as Resolution, a UK organization, helping families manage their separation in a sensitive and forward-looking manner.

Jo Edwards of Resolution states “it can be easy to forget that sometimes things going on outside of work have a profound effect on what happens within it. With workers and employers alike seeing a notable impact on productivity, divorce is an issue that bosses need to take seriously and look out for the warning signs.”

How can a business mitigate the effects of divorce in the workplace?
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. The afore-mentioned research indicates that divorce is dealt with similarly to grief as individuals experience a range of different emotions which can affect us all differently in the workplace and at home. It is knowing how individuals deal with this stress that will set your organization and HR department apart.

In order to limit the impact of divorce, consider:

  • Having a plan in place – don’t wait until a divorce occurs in a workplace. Structure what the company can afford to offer an employee in the circumstances to mitigate the impact that it will have on the business
  • Offering adequate support to the employee – a divorce will likely mean a busy and stressful time for the employee, including lawyer meetings or mediation. Consider offering flexible working hours to allow time to attend proceedings and avoid increased stress.
  • Discussing temporary part time hours – this solution has the potential to give the employee time that they need to navigate a divorce, while also mentoring a temporary part-time worker to fill the rest of the hours.

Mediation is one method used to maintain open and constructive communication between parties. A qualified mediator invites both parties to negotiate and discuss the conditions of their separation in a structured and neutral environment. This is a collaborative process, informed and mediated by solicitors, in which both partners can confront issues in a non-combative way, with constant legal support and advice.

It is fundamental that all employers are sensitive and receptive to the troubles faced by their employees, offering time to listen and practical information on the best ways to proceed. In order to give that extra support, employers should make themselves familiar with organizations mentioned, especially considering the detrimental effects that divorce often has on the productivity of both the employee concerned and their colleagues.

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