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Why it matters how your employees divorce

Families have been put under strain as never before by the pandemic. In this article, Harry Gates of The Divorce Surgery explains why and how employers should do more to help out. And why it is in their own interest to protect key staff.

Divorce in the workplace remains a grossly underacknowledged problem, and yet clearly the principal impact of divorce is felt by employed individuals, who may find themselves bewildered and in crisis.

Individual circumstances will always differ, but for many there will be a common thread of loss: of a relationship they may or may not have wanted to endure; of settled living arrangements with children; of a family home; of a friendship group; of a sense of self. Without the right support, the combination of these factors can feel overwhelming. It is often said that it can take twice as long to recover from divorce as from the death of a close relative.

So why is it any business of employers to intrude upon this private grief?
Consider an interesting recent study commissioned by Rayden Solicitors, which asked employees at 133 workplaces across the UK about their experiences of relationship breakdown. Amongst its findings were the following:

  • 60% of respondents suffered an impact on their mental health
  • 57% did not feel they received adequate support from their employers
  • 42% reported their employer could have provided more mental health support
  • Both men and women overwhelmingly reported an impact at work, though men were disproportionately effected (93% for men, 74% for women).

These figures demolish any notion that ‘private family issues’ can be left at home. Given that 42% of marriages end in divorce, these issues are a reality in the workplace which cannot be ignored. All employers should aspire to have better and more understanding treatment of their divorcing employees, in accordance with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, particularly good health and wellbeing (3) and gender equality (5).

But aside from the moral case, is there also a commercial case for employers to help out based on enlightened self-interest? The study continues:

  • 79% reported an impact on their ability to work
  • 39% reported decreased productivity
  • Just under 10% left their employment within a year of divorce
  • 15% reported an increase in errors or workplace accidents

These findings chime with a 2014 study for the Nashville Business Journal, which found that in the 6 months leading up to and in the year of divorce, an employee’s productivity is reduced by 40% and will suffer on some level for the next 7 years. More surprisingly still, there is an impact on the divorcing employee’s co-workers.

At the last count, in England & Wales men are most likely to get divorced at the age of 47 and women at just under 45. The conclusion seems clear: divorce will affect key personnel, and unless those employees are adequately supported, business will be impacted.

So what can employers do to help?

  1. First, acknowledge that you can. Employers are in an excellent position to signpost employees to appropriate services. Make sure you understand all the options out there
  2. If you have one, consider whether your firm’s Separating Families Policy needs revising. If you don’t have one yet, get one. Are you providing sufficient flexibility for divorcing employees to accommodate different childcare arrangements, for example? Is time made available for meetings with lawyers?
  3. Employee Benefit Schemes can be an excellent way of ensuring appropriate support is provided for key staff.

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