It is well-documented that divorce can be one of the most stressful situations anyone can experience. In the UK roughly 42% marriages end in divorce. So it is highly likely that some of your employees will be going through a divorce at some time.
The thing about employees is that they are people first, with complex emotions and feelings. We don’t just shrug off our feelings, like coats, and hang them on a hook when we walk into the workplace.
So how we feel at any one time or any particular day will affect our performance, concentration and productivity. Employers may not want to acknowledge this, and deal with it. But good employers recognise that their workers have things going on which are probably more important than work -at least for the individuals.
Is there anything an employer can do for employees who may be facing divorce?
Legalities and changes in the Law regarding divorce
It has been widely reported that “no fault divorce” is to be introduced in the UK. The intention is to end the blame game and make divorce easier for those involved.
This is undoubtedly good news and should lessen acrimony in divorce cases. But divorce is going to remain unpleasant for those who go through it. There will still be financial disputes and anxiety over children and access. If your employee is going through a divorce their private life will be disrupted and their work will also be adversely affected.
What effects am I likely to see on my employees?
The most likely effect on your employee is stress. This may mean loss of concentration and increased anxiety. They may use work as a refuge from the storm in their private life. If they are engaged and involved in their work, it may indeed be a relief from the stress. But it is more likely that they will only pay partial attention to their work.
The divorcing employee is likely to need to make court appearances, maybe multiple times if there is disagreement about financial aspects or access to children. It may be that the employee is going through a change in their living accommodation, or the sale of a jointly owned house. They are very likely to have increased financial worries.
How can an employer help employees who are divorcing?
There are some practical steps an employee can and should take to support their employees through a divorce.
This is an example of a situation which can be greatly helped if you already have a trusting and effective relationship with your employees. If they trust you or their line manager, they will be more open about their personal circumstances. You can build on that trust if you provide practical and relevant help to them.
The first issue is with regard to financial management. Divorcing couples need to exchange financial information and often need documents to confirm details of salary, benefits, bonuses, pension arrangements. An employer can help by providing that information quickly.
Some more ways an employer can help
Another issue which will affect your divorcing employee may be the need for time off work to attend court hearings in relation to the divorce, especially if it is an acrimonious divorce. There is no legal requirement that you give paid time off for this, but you may wish to allow them to use up annual leave, or take unpaid leave. Or a generous employer may wish to give additional paid leave (but you would need to give this some thought to ensure fairness to other, non-divorcing, employees).
However well an employee may be dealing with a divorce, you would be well advised to keep an eye on their mental health. These will be stressful times for them and we all react differently in such circumstances. Some of this will depend on how acrimonious the divorce is and whether there are children involved. It may be helpful to think about how to provide counselling or employee assistance if you do not already have such a scheme in place.
Benefits for the employer in supporting an employee through divorce
If you have a positive relationship with your employees, they are more likely to be honest with you about an impending divorce.
How can you provide practical and relevant support to them? If you can do so, the situation is likely to resolved more quickly. This is a benefit to the employee, of course. But that also makes it better for you.
A reduction in the stress of the situation may lead to reduced likelihood of ill-health absence. The employee will be more focussed at work and more able to concentrate. This has a positive effect on their productivity.
There are more benefits for the employer
The secondary effect is loyalty. An employee who has had support from their employer through a difficult personal situation is easier to retain in the workplace. They will not want to risk moving to a less understanding workplace.
Your reputation as a caring and good employer will also be enhanced. This will have a positive effect on recruitment and employee satisfaction.
Being kind to our employees and supporting them through difficult times is not only good for them, but it is also good for us as employers. We all want to be cared for and cared about, and that includes employers. And it doesn’t hurt the bottom line, either.