Employers paying a ‘productivity penalty’ for staff divorce
Leading divorce expert Carol Sullivan tackles the thorny issue of divorce and the negative impact it can have on workplace productivity
It’s a fact that employees are not the only ones who suffer through a divorce – businesses also bear the cost of an employee’s divorce through reduced productivity and employee absence.
Divorce costs the British economy billions of pounds each year, so there is a clear correlation between employee wellbeing, business productivity and loss of valued staff.
Small and medium-sized businesses are most likely to be affected, especially as the cost of replacing a member of staff or getting sufficient cover for them can be debilitating.
What Are the Impacts of Divorce on Business Productivity?
The estimated minimum amount of time it takes to get divorced is 4-6 months. During this time, your business is suffering as much as your divorcing employee:
- Absenteeism: One obvious side effect of divorce on an employer is the work time a worker will need to miss to meet with their legal representatives, and possibly attend court hearings. The more contentious the divorce, the more time off work required.
- Non-Productivity: Going through a difficult divorce is one of the most stressful things that a person can go through. This will naturally mean that the employee is less likely to be productive at work. They may lack focus, using working hours to deal with the issues, distracting colleagues to discuss what they are going through, and leaving work early due to childcare issues.
- Increased Sick Leave: People going through a divorce or separation often experience symptoms of depression, including headaches, fatigue and insomnia, leading to increased level of sick leave being requested.
- Increased Mistakes: The stress and possible depression that an employee goes through reduces the ability to function, impairs judgment and overall job performance – it can lead to injuries, mistakes, and accidents.
- Resigning: Employees leave jobs as a result of divorce or separation. Not only is there a risk of losing a valued member of staff but the addition cost of hiring a new team member can be very burdensome. For a small business, losing just one member of staff, even for a short amount of time, can have a huge impact on productivity, and on the other people that work there.”
How Employers Can Support Divorcing Employees
It is a fact that divorce affects productivity and effectiveness, so it is an issue businesses really cannot afford to ignore.
There are several things HR departments can do to minimise individual distress and workplace disruption. Here are some tips on how you achieve this:
- Have a Divorce Policy: Have a policy regarding absence for issues such as lawyer appointments or court appearances. Make sure your staff are aware of the policy and who they should approach to discuss particular difficulties.
- Provide Training: Provide adequate training to managers/team leaders and supervisors so that they can deal with divorcing employees appropriately.
- Be Approachable: An open-door policy where employees feel that they can tell you their situation. There should be ongoing dialogue so that the divorcing person’s changing needs can be accommodated.
- Show Compassion: Show compassion but don’t be patronising. Listen to the employee, offer appropriate help and ask about their feelings and whether there is anything you can do for them.
- Provide Confidentiality: Remember information about an employee’s divorce is private under data protection legislation. Discuss with the employee the level of information that other members of staff should be aware of.
- Offer Practical Support: Outline practical steps that people need to go through to minimise stress. Signpost expert help available. Discuss how they can manage their work tasks and working hours. Your employee will also need certain financial information i.e. pension valuations and tax information, so let them know how this can be accessed. Something as simple as allowing frequent breaks can go a long way. Do not offer advice that you are not qualified give. It is not always easy for employees to work out who to speak to, so having contact details to hand will often help. Look for practitioners with relevant experience. Collaborative law and mediation are two methods by which couples can resolve their differences in a constructive, amicable and child-focused way.
- Be Flexible: Working hours may need to be changed to accommodate new childcare responsibilities. Divorce should be treated similarly to bereavement as it brings the same sense of loss and, as such, it should be approached with similar compassion.
- Educate Other Staff: When faced with a colleague’s divorce, many people can make flippant remarks and offer unhelpful advice. Remarks such as, ‘You’re better off without him’, ‘You’ll find someone else’ or ‘I know just how you feel’ are not helpful. Using appropriate language to deal with personal issues is something that can be discussed, and this can give employees an opportunity to clarify their own feelings around personal issues before they are faced with a distraught colleague. There may also be office gossip which needs to be addressed.
- Be Mindful of Bullying: Absence due to divorce can place burdens on co-workers and line managers alike who may pressurise (inadvertently or otherwise) or bully a divorcing employee into returning to work or performing their duties to the same level as they did previously.
- Make a Plan: What tasks need to be completed and what deadlines need to be met. Is your employee in a position to complete them in time/what back up do you have if they can not? Have a short-term and long-term plan. Some employees’ divorces may drag on for years, so you need to be put in appropriate ongoing support to allow for this.