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Don’t separate work and support on divorce

David Price

Q: One of my employees is going through a divorce and, while I understand that it is a personal issue, I want to ensure that I support them, enabling them to stay in work. Please can you advise?

A: Divorce is an extremely emotional and sensitive process that can alter the lifestyle of an individual dramatically. An employee undergoing the divorce process may experience low moods, depression, stress and subsequent physical symptoms, as well as all the practical implications of going through this process. All of the above can potentially have a profound impact on an employee’s performance and wellbeing in the workplace.

The divorce process can differ significantly, in terms of the length, costs and the ability to be amicable with other parties involved. Before coming to terms with divorce itself and understanding the positive opportunities that may arise from it, an employee will experience different emotional stages, including denial, refusal to accept change, anger and grief. It is difficult to know how best to support someone going through a rollercoaster of emotions, but it is important to understand that each employee should be treated as an individual, as how they will respond to a divorce may vary.

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The effect of emotional distress in the workplace can have a detrimental impact. Divorce undoubtedly reduces an employee’s productivity. Employees can be significantly distracted, resulting in poor performance and possible mistakes. The impact may also have an effect on workplace relations, with other members of staff finding being emotionally responsive difficult.

Offering adequate support for those undergoing divorce is crucial. Employers should be aware of the constructive support they can offer to employees.

An employer can support an individual and help them to remain in work, which overall could reduce the risk of the employee being absent altogether and further developing mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression and general isolation. Meet with the employee regularly and informally as a welfare check-in, ensure this is a comfortable and confidential environment where the employee can discuss how the personal situation is affecting them, and whether there are any measures that can easily be put in place to support them. Temporary measures such as adjustments to targets, regular breaks or time off for various practical calls/appointments can be implemented, which may in the long run be more beneficial than the employee trying to struggle through and resulting in errors, poor work performance or losing a valued employee.

Managers can signpost individuals to organisations who can offer advice and support to employees. Offering access to an employee wellness programme can provide a point of contact for managers to refer to, so that employees can alleviate divorce stresses through avenues, including counselling and practical legal advice.

David Price is managing director of Health Assured