I was delighted to have been invited to the House of Commons recently to the launch of the Parents Promise a new HR initiative to support parents going through divorce or separation.
Businesses including Asda, Tesco, Metro Bank, PwC and Unilever have partnered with the Positive Parenting Alliance (PPA) to promote more family-friendly policies for employees going through a divorce or separation.
It came after a study showed that 90 per cent of workers surveyed said their work was badly affected when they divorced, while 95 per cent said their mental health also suffered.
The research found that around three-quarters said they were less efficient at work, while around 40 per cent said that they had taken time off work as a result of their separation.
Mustafa Faruqi, the head of employee relations at Tesco, said the supermarket business had a ‘responsibility to influence the lives of lots of working people in a positive way’.
Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the family division of the High Court, said that employers should be ‘treating separation as a significant life event, like bereavement or serious illness’.
Divorce or relationship breakdown isn’t something that staff will easily talk about, but it can create a lot of turmoil that will affect focus, productivity and effectiveness in the workplace.
Here are five things to look out for in your staff and suggestions for staff policies to cope with this stressful life event.
Changed attendance at work
You may notice a change in patterns around arriving late, leaving early, or leaving in the middle of the day for unexplained meetings.
Complaining of exhaustion or showing signs of fatigue
Divorce is exhausting as it is so stressful on all emotional, mental and physical levels. There are a lot of new issues that have to be negotiated, from moving home, addressing the children’s needs, to coping with depression and a sense of failure, to fear around money. All practical aspects of one’s life are completely up in the air and there is real uncertainty. Processing all of this change takes lots of emotional energy so it is an exhausting, challenging & unsettling time.
I think it helps to remember that “Divorce is a Process NOT an Event.”
Becoming unusually moody, irritable or distracted
Imagine everything you thought was stable, secure and guaranteed suddenly isn’t. Your significant other has turned into an angry stranger, full of resentment & unreasonable demands and you don’t know how family finances will pan out, or whether you will see your children regularly. The rug has been completely pulled out from under your feet and this is NOT how your ducks were supposed to line up in your life. You are transfixed with fear, overwhelmed, confused, afraid, resentful, or completely frozen in panic about how to handle the changes in your new way of life.
Then you have to face lawyers and the arcane world of divorce law. Divorce law has few certainties in it other than you’ll possibly come out of the whole process poorer and feeling hard done by.
Even the most reasonable, rational and relaxed people will struggle to maintain calm in this scenario. I have known people, who themselves are lawyers, become floored by the divorce process. It’s so easy to tip into overwhelm and this will obviously threaten focus and productivity at work.
And the reason I know how people feel, is because I have been through this challenging experience myself so I know first hand how tough it is.
Over-dependency on alcohol
An increase in drinking habits can indicate chronic stress. Alcohol uptake is a common way of dealing with the stress of a failing relationship, as it effectively blots out the emotional pain of the loss and this can also affect judgment, rationality and effectiveness at work.
Change in eating habits
Stress in divorce may lead to over-eating or under-eating. Some people definitely have a physiological reaction to stress that includes tummy aches, nausea and loss of appetite. This is a physiological stress response putting the body into emergency alert. Others eat more when under stress, perhaps to give a temporary blood sugar lift or for the emotional support that food seems to bring. There may also be extra coffee consumption, using caffeine as a drug that will counteract the energy drain of chronic stress.
But it doesn’t have to be like this.
How you can help:
1. Look at your HR policies in advance and make sure they cover major life changes e.g. major health issues, bereavement, divorce, sickness of a relative and so on. If you have a structure in place to handle such events make sure staff know what that structure is and whom they should approach to discuss particular difficulties in complete confidentiality and in an atmosphere of non judgment.
2. Create a culture where it is acceptable to seek help before the crisis impacts on work. During divorce people’s coping skills are stretched to the limit so it’s a good idea for them to get help before they snap. Have in place a stress management programme and consider using specialist coaches for events such as divorce or bereavement. Making this part of your benefits or wellbeing package may seem odd to some of your employees, but when they need it they will appreciate it.
3. Work with your employee so that you are kept informed and up to date and they feel supported. Support may be practical e.g. allowing flexible working, providing coaching on managing stress, allowing frequent breaks (stressed, overwhelmed brains simply can’t focus for long periods of time) or being more flexible around childcare. Time off may be needed for court appearances – recognise that either side of a court hearing, or during negotiations with a collaborative lawyer, your employee will be ultra-stressed and be prepared for this.
4. Make sure your employee doesn’t feel judged, only supported through a personal crisis. Over time they will cope, become more focused and may in fact throw their energy into their career as it offers them self esteem, stability, predictability, security and familiarity when the rest of the world is spinning faster than usual.
Expert support in divorce can cut down on the high levels of stress, reduce the time the divorce takes and reduce its cost, as well as reduce feelings of helplessness and fear. It will support your staff member at a time of maximum distress & empower them with the focus and productivity you need. They will reward you with loyalty, respect & gratitude. Recognising what your staff member faces in divorce and giving them a clear pathway of clarity, direction and confidence will enable them to get through divorce successfully and that can only benefit both you and your staff.
How I can help:
I offer employers a one hour talk with live Q&A’s (that can be sent in anonymously) answering practical questions around how to tell the children, what reactions & questions to expect from them depending on their age & how to navigate the choppy waters of divorce confidently with clarity & direction taking small steps of action.
Bespoke Package – the number of hours and commitment that your employee needs on an ongoing basis that fits in with their work commitments.
I offer employees 1-2-1 coaching at their place of work, or at my practice in Surrey, or over the telephone or on Zoom using the Voxer app to answer questions in real time.
The hour a week is completely confidential and there is no finger pointing, judgement or blame just clarity, direction, support and emerging confidence.
The 6-Week “Separation – Putting Your Children First” Coaching Programme covers:
- Where You Are Now – financially, emotionally and mentally
- Telling The Children
- The Parenting Plan of Assurances
- Me Time
- What You Really Want
- Clarity, Direction and Practical Ways Forward
- Objectives, Goals and The Magic Wand Exercise
- The Time Line Exercise
- The One Point Technique
- The Circle of Confidence
- Useful Resourceful States
- Dignity, Respect and Detachment
- Working Through The 7 Steps of Denial, Anger, Resentment, Fear, Sadness, Relief, Acceptance
- Embracing The Process
- Practical Ways of Getting Support
- Looking at Guilt, Trauma, Disappointment and Failure
- New Traditions
- Me Time
- Re-Building Self Esteem & Confidence
- Moving from “ We ” to “I”
- The Success Diary
- Letting go
- Moving forward
Investing in your staff is a long term commitment to excellence.
Call me today on 01883 818329 or email me on [email protected] to begin transforming your employees lives for the better.