Royal Mail providing access to divorce support – but are they missing the point?
Royal Mail providing access to divorce support – but are they missing the point?
The Royal Mail has introduced a new pilot scheme to support the wellbeing of employees who are separating from their spouses, called Dialogue First.
Through employee assistance programmes (EAP), staff members going through a separation can gain access to a family law service.
BUT IS SENDING THEM STRAIGHT TO THE LAWYERS REALLY THE BEST WAY TO HELP THEM?
Even though the scheme appears to encourage mediation, from my work with mediators I have learned that people need to be in a less frightened, less angry state of mind BEFORE they meet the mediators, for the process to be given a fair chance of working at it’s best.
So I believe an employee package needs to INCLUDE psychological and emotional support – and I don’t just mean a ‘counsellor help line’. Every divorce or family separation is different – some will benefit from talking to a life coach with a focus on practical ways to deal with their emotions and keeping their focus on the future, whilst others will need to spend time with a psychotherapist understanding why they are feeling suicidal. Some will get the confidence and inspiration they need to deal with the divorce in an amicable way through working with a holistic healer, or through talking to a parenting expert. Most will benefit from cost-free no-obligation meetings with a financial advisor and financial planner – taking control of the financial aspects – before they try to start splitting those assets.
Iain Duncan Smith has been quoted in The Telegraph (8 Nov 2014) saying:
“Companies should intervene and help employees going through marital break ups to prevent them ‘crashing out’ of work and ending up on benefits”.
When government ministers make statements like that, then the cost of divorce to the economy must be pretty significant.
Is the cost of family separation really that high?
The financial cost of family breakdown to the UK society is staggeringly high.
In 2013 it reached £46 billion a year – over £10 billion more than the Government’s defence budget. *
This is the equivalent of every single tax payer in the UK paying £1,541 each year to pick up the pieces. **
Shaun Davis, group director of safety, health, wellbeing and sustainability at Royal Mail, said: “As one of the first employers to adopt the scheme we recognise that workplace wellbeing is as much about what happens to our employees outside of work….
“Family breakdown can be a tumultuous time for all concerned, so we support innovative and affordable ways of helping our employees and their families reach agreement.”
I reckon the best way to achieve that is to take a more holistic approach, to allow employees to access free resources without their employers knowing about it (privacy is key in the early stages of divorce if you want people to take advantage of what’s on offer to help them), and to create a culture that is less afraid of the ‘D’ word, with less stigma and use of phrases like “Failed Marriage”, or “Single Parent” being seen as someone less likely for a company to invest in as an employee. I have anecdotal evidence of people whose careers and even keeping their jobs was affected by the change in their marital status, due to the attitude of employers and managers – not the constraints of their new situation.
“Life can be full of trauma, loss of loved ones, bankruptcy, relationship breakdowns. Support should be available because not only is it the ethically right thing to do, but it is the commercially right thing to do. Don’t let your people flounder, find new ways to re-energise them to get back their lives, and so re-energise your business. As an experienced HR professional, I’ve been looking for an initiative such as this to help our people through challenging times.” Gareth Williams, Business development and HR director: Azureus
The Royal Mail are breaking boundaries through this initiative, and my hope is that it can develop as a programme that goes beyond divorce and encompasses bereavement and other key life changes. It is a brave first step – brave because most companies tremble at the thought of getting embroiled in the personal lives of their employees – though they are still going to suffer from the outcomes of those private lives so my take on it, is that they should provide key training for managers and at the very least, online guidance for all employees available via the work intranet.
But how are they planning to measure the success of this initiative?
Without some sort of measurement, that also respects the privacy of the employees involved, it will be hard to gain lessons during this trial and to improve upon the outcomes. Such measurements would not be difficult to put in place if the mechanisms for delivering the resources are adapted to also collect that data. Sending people off to a counsellor helpline or to a firm of lawyers is not itself going to provide any real measurements of progress.
Missing the point
If the divorce support for employees is limited to primarily legal advice, then it’s missing the point. It’s not divorce and family breakup that costs the UK economy more than we spend on defence – it’s the WAY we divorce. Encouraging mediation is not the same as actively helping couples prepare for a non-adversarial process, and making mediation or other non-adversarial routes through divorce the social norm should be a priority – and that may not be the priority of every local law firm.
Don’t target the divorcing employee – make the resources available to ALL employees
Not only that, but if the resources were available to all employees at all times – perhaps via their intranet – some of them would take a peak at a much earlier stage of the divorce process, and so be armed with key valuable information about the tangible benefits of keeping their divorce out of the court system. This information should be made available not just from law firms. There are still plenty of family lawyers who do not fully understand the benefits of mediation nor how arbitration can be used to stop a mediation from de-railing. More independent information resources need to be included.
In response to my showing a draft of this article in advance of publication to the Royal Mail’s ‘Right of Reply’, that response included the following quote; “The key is that a manager is often not qualified enough to offer the type of help needed and must therefore know who to signpost an employee to for help.” But the context was in how much training is currently provided to managers in the area of mental health!
Currently the training for managers regarding divorce is focused on mental health, and not on basic signposting (which can mostly be done via downloadable resources providing videos/podcasts/articles, such as the Divorce First Aid Kit) to educate those considering divorce in the early stages, so they AVOID developing mental health problems due to the stress of a nasty breakup.
So it seems that what is missing is practical information and access to free resources – which would reduce the need for more serious mental health intervention. It’s all about prevention.
People need preparation if they are to benefit from mediation and mediation-focused support. Preparation provided to ALL employees and managers, as all of them will have to deal with someone else’s family break up in the workplace, and if they give the wrong guidance (many do!) then employees end up in a spiral of suffering and debt. Not because they are getting divorced – but because they are getting divorced the wrong way.
So how do people know who they need to talk to first? How can an EAP provide access to the right people at the right time?
Give the employees a choice, and trust them to make those choices without having to ‘go public’ with HR.
- Give them free PRIVATE access to key information on the staff intranet (for example, the Divorce First Aid Kit download or even offer a training for managers: “Divorce First Aid for Employees” – to encourage employees to know how to signpost each other towards free resources)
- Make sure those resources include experts covering emotional and psychological support – so therapists, coaches, and holistic healers – let the employees have free tasters so they can discover who is best placed to help them. Don’t let an EAP programme simply prescribe ‘counselling’.
- Provide financial advice from advisors who focus on solutions for the family as a whole – not ‘taking sides’. Ideally practitioners who have experience of working with divorcing couples and who have sufficience skill to split pensions and knowledge of the current tax situation.
- Provide resources that educate the workforce on the benefits of staying out of court – mediation,collaborative law, the use of family law arbitration – without waiting till they are already in the thick of their own divorce. Educating the workforce as a whole on what should be – but isn’t currently – shared knowledge, will allow them to give helpful practical guidance (divorce first aid) to colleagues and family members.
More empowerment-focused resources
Why is a counselling hotline just not enough to help prepare couples for a non-adversarial and less stressful divorce process?
Emotional Freedom Technique (Tapping) expert Susan Cowe Miller explains the benefits of one practice that can have fast positive results and is an ongoing skillset that the divorcing employee can use in other areas of their lives:
“When anger, resentment, hurt or injustice are all challenging to be uppermost in someone’s head finding a way to quieten the unhelpful Mind Chatter is key. EFT Tapping answers that part of the problem speedily and effectively. Reducing and managing these strong debilitating feelings is vital so that some sense of empowerment is felt.
Stress levels can be lowered and then holistic healing can be an option. This is how I work with clients and emotional trauma is my area of expertise. In my experience, Counselling and Talk therapy is certainly not the only option as it can be lengthy and the destructive feelings can be re-triggered. Individuals can learn Tapping quickly and easily. They can self-treat to better manage their feelings which results in more effective decision making.” Susan Cowe Miller: www.hampshire-eft.co.uk
One would assume that the legal firm to whom employees are given directions towards would make all the dispute resolution options clearly available – through a MIAMS or an initial signposting discussion. But if that law firm has no mediators or collaborative lawyers amongst their team, how lucidly will they be able to describe the benefits? Even if (as with many family law firms) they have to refer outside the firm for mediation, how many would refer to a collaborative lawyer, or even be able to describe adequately to clients the benefits, when doing so will be potentially ‘losing’ them a client?
If all employees have the opportunity to have a no-obligation cost-free conversation with a mediator and also a collaborative lawyer, as part of their support package, would that not avoid this issue?
An example of how Collaborative Law would be explained by someone who is passionate about the process is quite different from a standard explanation – this is how Collaborative family lawyer John Stebbing of Stephen Rimmer LLP explains the benefits:
“Control your own destiny, what you have gathered together in your marriage or relationship should be shared by agreement between you. The Collaborative process is a style that enables you to do just that with a professional beside you to guide and support – Separate with Style!”
In a society where so many couples still mistake Mediation as something to do with Relate and ‘getting back together’, and who have never heard of Collaborative Law, there is a real opportunity here to educate employees and to ensure that they receive the right information in the right way, so they are more pre-disposed to using non adversarial methods during their divorce.
People navigating family change do not need rescuing – they need empowering. Legal advice is important, but is only a very small aspect of the process of divorce, and a shift in how employers view family breakup is also needed, that goes way beyond trying to reduce the damage and ease the (sometimes significant) impact on the company profits.
Parental disputes carry way beyond the decree absolute, and cause huge stress and reduction in productivity for those employees caught up in those ongoing post-divorce battles that use the children as weapons.
Thank goodness companies are catching on to the fact that personal lives affect the workplace and cannot be ignored, if you don’t want those personal lives to affect the company bottom line, and The Royal Mail should be congratulated on this initiative. But what a shame to just send people to local law firms rather than truly empower employees through a more holistic approach, encouraging them to not only head for a less acrimonious divorce, but to actually create a sustainable family change over the ensuing years, that will keep those individuals being equally productive and feeling valued by the companies they work for, and by society at large.
Alternative Divorce Guide
* The Relationships Foundation, Counting the Cost of Family Failure 2013 Update, Cambridge: Relationships Foundation, March 2012; HM Government, Spending Review 2010, Table A.9: Total Departmental Expenditure Limits [accessed via: https://cdn.hm-treasury.gov.uk/ sr2010_annexa.pdf (22/02/13)]
* * The Relationships Foundation, Counting the Cost of Family Failure 2013 Update, Op. cit.
suzyMillerCreator of Best Way To Divorce. International Divorce Divorce Strategist and TEDx Speaker.
6th March 2022
1st December 2023
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