What to do when an employee is going through a divorce
While divorce is a personal matter, the emotional impact can extend into the workplace and businesses are suffering as a result; it is costing the British economy around £46 billion a year. When people are distracted they make more mistakes and work more slowly. If they're feeling depressed, their creativity will be down. If they're feeling angry, they may project some of that anger onto co-workers or even customers.
Divorce isn't something that employees will necessarily wish to talk about, but the stress of a relationship breakdown can impact on their emotional wellbeing increasing stress levels dramatically. It therefore makes good sense for employers to acknowledge the role they can play in assisting their employees through the turmoil of a divorce.
By educating yourself about the impact of divorce and how to effectively manage the process, you can support your employees to maintain the focus and productivity you need. Recognising what employees face in divorce will lead you to a greater understanding of what needs to be done, thereby enabling employees to contribute more effectively.
What can employers do to help?
You should consider adopting staff policies that cover major life changes including divorce. If you have a structure in place to handle such events, employees will feel more inclined to approach management to discuss any adjustments that could help support them during their divorce. This will reduce the impact that their situation might have on their performance at work and their general wellbeing.
Make sure staff know you will support them. Consider requests for flexible working; for example, if a father is going to have his children with him on alternative weekends, it is likely to come up in the legal proceedings as to whether he can collect them from school on the Friday and take them to school on the Monday. This will mean he has to leave early on alternate Fridays and may arrive late Monday morning. This may be impossible, but it can make all the difference to an employee to know whether or not his employer is supportive of some flexibility in working hours. You may also be asked to provide a letter, for example, confirming agreement to an employee leaving early on alternate Friday to be produced in Court proceedings.
During divorce, employees’ ability to cope will be significantly reduced in certain situations. Consider having a stress management programme in place to assist such employees before they become too overwhelmed with everything. Training certain management staff to assist in these programmes will encourage employees to seek help and feel supported at work when they feel things are getting on top of them. Such programmes can also provide support to other employees going through bereavements and other stressful situations.
You could consider paying for an employee to have an initial meeting with a matrimonial solicitor. The cost for comprehensive advice is likely to be approximately £500 + VAT but the employee will benefit hugely from about two hours of legal advice. This can make a big difference to an employee who has not had any legal advice. For example an employee can suddenly find out that their spouse wants a divorce and often feel completely bewildered as to what may lay in store in the future. They may have numerous fears, including what will happen to their home, and how much time they will be able to spend with their children. An initial appointment will provide a lot of reassurance and what lies ahead will become something known rather than something unknown and feared. The employee can then decide if they want to continue with that solicitor, or another, as the initial appointment will not be any kind of commitment to proceeding down a legal route.
You may also be asked by your employee to produce confirmation of other aspects of their job for the purposes of the divorce proceedings. Some examples are; confirmation that a bonus has not been paid in any particular period, confirmation of an expected change such as withdrawal of a company car, an explanation of how a share option scheme operates or the value of shares received as part of a share option scheme.
Line managers and HR personnel should try to make compassionate conversation with the individual to see how best to support them with their work arrangements. Every person’s reaction to these kind of major life events varies, and unfortunately, there isn’t a standard procedure to follow. It is always best to request legal advice if you are unsure about what you and your company can offer.