Are we doing enough to support our divorcees?

A new report has highlighted the hidden impact of divorce on both employees and employers with small businesses bearing the brunt of the problems.

Data from the study found that four in every five employees who had been through divorce or relationship breakdown stated that it had an impact on their ability to work.

And just over half felt they didn’t receive the support they wanted from their employers, something of a concern as divorce rates are expected to continue rising in 2021

SMEs are particularly affected by a post-breakup ‘brain drain’ with one in seven employees who had gone through a relationship breakdown found to have left the company within the year. This is four times more likely than employees at large companies.

Similarly, SMEs are nearly three times more likely to let the employee go post-relationship breakdown — 2.3 per cent were let go within the year. The redundancy rate per number of employees in 2020 was 0.8 per cent, according to ONS Labour Market Statistics.

Katherine Rayden: divorce affects every part of your life

These figures were contained in a ‘Divorce in the Workplace’ study, conducted by Rayden Solicitors which asked employees from 133 companies who have been through a divorce or separation how this impacted their ability to work, whether their workplace supported them sufficiently, and what more could be done to help others going through similar circumstances.

Staff cited many preferences such as mental health support, flexible working to attend meetings, compassionate leave, childcare support and even protection from office gossips.

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In almost ten per cent of cases, home working actually contributed to the separation.

The data showed that employees going through such a breakup affects smaller companies to a much greater extent than larger enterprises, but that SMEs simply cannot afford to have employees not working to their full capacity.

The law firm’s Senior Partner, Katherine Rayden, said: “We might think of divorce as a very private and personal issue, but the truth is that going through a divorce is something that weighs down on every aspect of that person’s life. For those divorcing who might spend the majority of their daily lives in a job role, work life is no exception to this.

“Divorce will often be an emotional process, and it’s clear from this data that individuals’ work lives are negatively impacted by the emotional strain of divorce.  It seems that there is more that could be done to minimise the ripple effect of a divorce.

SMEs need to be sensitive to the fact that divorce can affect their staff beyond their personal lives. Providing the appropriate support will put employees in a better position to cope with their divorce. It’s in the best interest of both the business and its people for SME employers to meet this need.”

Lina Mookerjee, a psychotherapist and mindfulness facilitator, said: “When facing a major life change through relationship breakdown, separation or divorce, this can create significant psychological stress. The stress response is designed for short periods but when experienced for six months and longer, it becomes known as chronic stress.

It’s in the business’s interest to support that person through their difficult time – continuing to get the best from them and ultimately, retaining talent

“The prolonged release of adrenaline and cortisol adversely impacts physical and psychological functioning, including the capacity to recover after illness and be resilient.

“Physically, there’s a greater propensity to feel run-down, tired, develop digestive issues, aches, pains and skin problems and generally feeling unwell. Psychologically, the capacity to focus, stay present and process information can become difficult.

“Coping mechanisms become relied on, including the overuse of caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. As these are stressors, they help to perpetuate the relentless hamster wheel effect. It’s important SMEs recognise these emotional consequences and demonstrate their responsibility for vital care and nurture. Stress is not a sign of weakness but a sign of being human in need of support to regain their balance and equilibrium.”

Kirsten Keen, of Cluer HR, agreed: “With most relationship breakdowns comes a huge amount of stress, hurt and heartbreak and from that breeds lack of concentration, low mood and even depression. All this is inevitably going to impact on a person’s ability to perform well in their role.

“If that person is a valued, respected member of the business, it surely goes without saying that it’s therefore in the business’s interest to support that person through their difficult time – continuing to get the best from them and ultimately, retaining talent.

“It can be as simple as being flexible – allowing employees to attend solicitor meetings and court hearings in work time, for example. Offering counselling services to staff – not just for issues that relate directly to work, but for personal issues, such as relationship breakdowns. Nurturing a culture whereby people talk about their homelife and are open about problems can also be helpful.

“Yes, you might lose a bit of time by allowing them to attend solicitor appointments, for example, but if that helps to make them feel less stressed and get their life sorted, SMEs will benefit in the long-run too – retaining an employee who can concentrate on their work, be more productive and who feels valued and understood.” 


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SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024