First Aid: Part 8 (4min)
Antiseptic Cleaning Wipes
Resist the urge to sanitise the divorce
and shut the door on longer-term emotional side effects too early.
Beware: Unresolved anger and hurt should not be repressed – it will catch up with you in the end. Physical exercise, dancing and also crying, are great ways to let out repressed anger and emotion in safe ways that don’t harm anyone.
Workplace hell: Divorce is a taboo subject. Don’t just rely on HR to deal with such a private and sensitive life situation: it can be difficult to bring up personal lives at work, but if you are in a domestic violence situation, your workplace is legally obliged to keep you safe at work, even if they have to hire a security guard!
We all have a role to play in supporting each other through such a major life change – don’t reject offers of support from work colleagues and friends.
- Resist the urge to sanitize the divorce and shut the door on longer-term emotional side-effects too early
- Beware: Unresolved anger and hurt should not be repressed
- Workplace hell: Divorce is a taboo subject. Don’t rely on HR to deal with such a private and sensitive life situation
Author Jarod Kintz once wryly stated: “I wanted a divorce, so I bought myself a house, to give me the incentive to stay married.”
Wipe away the tears – make it all Sanitised.
Danger! People will suppress their anger and hurt if no-one is willing to listen. However – there is a balancing act for those around them – how not to let them fall into victim hood.
My advice is for you not to see them as a victim. See them as you.
No-one is immune to divorce and family breakup.
I thought I was. I never dreamed for a moment that my kids’ dad would one day reveal he wasn’t happy and that our relationship would end, overnight.
Divorce and family breakup is messy – you can wipe away the surface tears but what about what lies lurking below? The ripples of divorce affect more than the immediate family, over a long period of time. Especially if the breakup involves litigation.
And in the workplace, that can be hell….
Stress is now the number 1 reason for absenteeism at work was the conclusion of the CIPD/Simplyhealth Absence survey in October 2011 (xxiii). Stress impacts negatively on employee absence rates; on the morale of fellow colleagues working in the same teams; and on the company’s bottom line.
What seems not yet to be measured in the UK, but is anecdotally a real-life problem for employers, is the day to day real lives of their employees – which can cause hardworking reliable staff to dissolve into over-stressed, emotionally delicate workers who are suffering from that all too common life-situation called family break up. Or to use another almost taboo word – or so it seems – ‘divorce’.
As the creator of the Alternative Divorce Guide – which is a travel guide to stay out of court divorce – I hear claims from employers that their employee’s private lives are beyond their control. Well of course they are – but the question I ask, is why avoid sharing information on how those employees can get support and help outside of their EAP programme, and empowering them to avoid adversarial divorce which will only impact negatively on their families and on their work, just because there appears to be such a social stigma still around the subject of divorce?
Did I say “outside” their Employment Assistance Programme? Yes! Privacy is key, so especially in the early stages employees need an independent source of information that may be sponsored by their employers but must remain separate from them. HR may treat employees family issues as confidential, but rightly or wrongly, the employees may not always believe that to be the case. Employers need to provide a broader, more interventionist approach but keep out of the private lives of their employees.
The UK Law clearly states: “a duty exists for all employers to undertake an adequate risk assessment …… this is in addition to employers general duty of care required by Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974″
An employee from O2 was awarded in excess of £100,000 in compensation in 2008, essentially because she had asked for a less stressful role in the workplace – but the action was slow and after 3 months the stress proved to be too much for her to cope with. Through such a large compensation award, employers were sent a clear message that Duty of Care must be clearly demonstrated to avoid possible legal action.
Employment Law Watch concludes that the case is important because the “Court of Appeal has made it clear that in cases of severe stress it is not enough for an employer to provide access to a confidential counselling helpline or to refer an employee to an occupational health professional. It is likely that a more interventionist approach to managing stress is required of managers and HR professionals following this case.”
Divorce impacts heavily on the workplace because it increases financial pressures, emotional turmoil, and absence rates in employees – and this impacts directly on the company’s bottom line. Traditional EAPs are not always targeted at specific life crises like divorce and family break up, and employees often do not access them because they need a private resource that is not under the auspices of their company. In other words, it is vital that any realistic help to be offered to people going through family break up needs to be outside of the EAP and independent of the employer, otherwise many staff will simply not use what is offered because they want to keep their private life out of the workplace (even if they are unable to spare their employer the consequences of their life crises), or because they fear that in a time of recession their job prospects will be impacted if employers know that they are going through a divorce.
I recently spoke to a professional woman who is convinced that her work contract was not renewed as a direct result of her employer knowing that she may be divorcing, and as then a single mother she was deemed less likely to be able to cope with the travelling involved in the job – even though she is well able to arrange childcare.
What will be interesting is to see over the coming months how many companies take up the free offer of giving their staff access to online resources such as the Alternative Divorce Guide. I have found a reluctance in HR to share these free resources because – I believe – there is still a fear of tackling sensitive issues like divorce.
Charities such as Families Need Fathers have shared the resource, and so have the Family Strategic Partnership, some law firms (as a client benefit) and both Woman’s Weekly and the London Metro have written positive features about the Divorce in a Box product. But so far, few employers have taken the opportunity to make this resource available to their staff – even though it won’t cost them anything to do so as part of a pilot to measure the benefits to reductions in stress-related absence.
If your company is giving you easy access to a free resource that can guide your friends, family and work colleagues through a less stressful family breakup – you are one of the lucky ones.
Do we have a cultural issue at play here? Is divorce and family breakup such a taboo subject that employers just don’t want to engage with the reality of their employee’s personal lives? I was told by the creator of local wellbeing events that in his dealings with employers, he never uses the word ‘stress’. He speaks only of wellbeing. It is as if by accepting that stress exists, the employer is admitting to some kind of sin.
Is it not time for employers to take their heads out of the sand, and accept that employees personal lives will not only impact on their bottom line, but also could result in litigation that could cost that employer a large sum in compensation?
I recently read online that some law firms are receiving payments from local employers who are covering the cost of an employee’s divorce. This is understandable – especially in an SME where a key team member is struggling with not only the emotional fallout but the financial cost of a litigious divorce. But would those firms not be better off encouraging stay-out-of-court divorce, by making key information accessible at an early stage? If employees use mediation or collaborative law they are likely to suffer much less stress and avoid high ongoing costs.
One of the key benefits of using an outside resource – like Alternative Divorce Guide resources – is the anonymity. Any employee who wants to access the information clicks a link and subscribes free of charge. Their personal details remain private and confidential. This means they are more likely to seek help through Alternative Divorce Guide, rather than to suffer in silence in order to keep their private life away from HR or their EAP.
P. J. O’Rourke showed he knew a thing or two about society’s prejudice against divorce when he said: “Staying married may have long-term benefits. You can elicit much more sympathy from friends over a bad marriage than you ever can from a good divorce.”
- (xxiii)CIPD/Simplyhealth Absence survey in October 2011
suzyMillerCreator of Best Way To Divorce. International Divorce Divorce Strategist and TEDx Speaker.
6th March 2022
23rd February 2024