With statistics from The Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealing that 42% of marriages in England and Wales would end in divorce and a study by the Mental Health Foundation revealing that in the past year, 74% of people have felt so stressed they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope, it is clear that relationship issues are likely to be affecting a large proportion of employees.
Divorce in particular brings with it additional stressors, from financial worries, to moving house and juggling childcare arrangements. It can even affect employees’ ability to uphold their existing work commitments, particularly if they are having to manage new patterns of childcare, have appointments to attend in relation to their divorce proceedings or are experiencing stress-related illnesses such as anxiety or depression. If you become aware that an employee is dealing with a difficult divorce situation, here are some ways in which you as their employer can best support them.
Discuss the matter confidentially with them
Issues such as divorce can be difficult to discuss as employees may be worried about bringing their personal issues into the workplace and employers may feel that they are overstepping the mark and prying into the employee’s private life. However, work and life are so tightly intertwined that it is impossible not to be affected by major life-changing situations.
In such cases, it is important to sit down with the employee and have a frank and open discussion with them. This is an opportunity to chat through various support options that are available and to check on the overall wellbeing of the employee, to ensure they are fit to remain at work. It is also important to allow the employee to voice their concerns, as for example, they may be worried about fulfilling their overtime commitments but equally need to maintain their current level of income.
Offer flexible working arrangements
Many employers now operate flexible working arrangements and in the case of employees going through a divorce, they may just need a temporary flexible working pattern whilst they transition to new personal circumstances. Offering opportunities to work from home, or permitting flexi-time to allow them to leave early/start late to accommodate legal appointments, school events or doctor appointments are all ways in which you can make the process of working much more fluid and less stressful, whilst maintaining higher levels of productivity.
Appoint an office confidant
If you are concerned that the employee’s welfare may continue to decline, it could be helpful to appoint an office confidant or welfare officer who can take responsibility for regularly checking in with the employee to ensure all is well. This would provide the employee with a clearly identifiable ‘go-to’ person if they are experiencing a stressful moment at work and would avoid the employee slipping through the cracks after any initial meetings.
Spot unhealthy work patterns
People respond to stress in very different ways and for some, they will simply throw themselves into their work as a distraction from the disruption that is happening around them. In addition to employees who are visibly upset or stressed, it is important to be aware of those on the opposite end of the spectrum who ‘appear fine’ but are displaying unhealthy work patterns.
This could include working exceptionally long hours, taking work home with them, not taking their lunch breaks and avoiding communication with other people whilst at work. If you are concerned that an employee is displaying unhealthy work patterns, arrange to chat through the situation with them so that you can jointly agree on a healthier, more constructive way forward.
Consider short-term leave options
For some people, the effects of relationship breakdown are so traumatic that they are left emotionally and physically unable to work. They may continue to come to work out of fear that they will lose their job, or because they are simply on autopilot and going through the motions.
For those employees who are experiencing severe stress, it is important to identify this early and consider implementing short-term sick leave. Employees should be reassured that this will not affect their employment and a return to work plan should be put in place for their return, particularly if they have been off for several weeks or months.
For the majority of employees, the period of turbulence following a divorce will be short-lived and with the right support and guidance, they will be able to resume their full focus, productivity and engagement at work, sometimes at higher levels than were displayed previously.
The way that you as an organisation handle the situation will help to determine how supported the employee feels during their most difficult moments. If conducted correctly, this will result in happier, more engaged and extremely loyal employees who genuinely appreciate having a considerate and empathetic employer.
About the Author
Henry Brookman is a divorce solicitor and senior partner at Brookman, a highly experienced family law firm, with expertise in a full range of family legal matters including divorce in the UK and internationally, complex financial issues, property settlements and children’s matters. Brookman is ranked by the Legal 500 and has been awarded the Law Society’s quality mark, Lexcel. For more information visit www.brookman.co.uk.