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How HR can best support employees facing divorce during the cost of living crisis

As the cost-of-living crisis escalates with rising inflation at a 40-year high and more energy price cap increases set for spring, UK family law firms are reporting the highest ever recorded number of enquiries from couples filing for divorce, as they buckle under the strain of spiralling financial pressure and uncertainty.

Break-ups devastate businesses. The Chamber of Commerce estimates an annual cost of £48 billion to UK taxpayers because of family breakdown, with a more recent US study indicating this could now be much higher.

Business, relationship breakdowns and HR's role:

Divorced employees need more HR support

Family breakdown poses hidden risk for HR

Minimising the impact of separation and divorce in the workplace

A recently commissioned survey by Rayden Solicitors found that 79% of employees state that divorce and relationship breakdown had an impact on their ability to work, with 57% claiming they did not receive the required support from their employers resulting in almost one in 10 leaving the company within a year following their divorce.

The majority, some 60%, also reported that their divorce impacted their mental health in the workplace causing anxiety, depression, or stress with some 23% having to take sick or unpaid leave as a direct result of their relationship breakdown.

The study also found that SME employees are four times more likely to leave a company within a year following divorce, than those working in a large company with better access to health and wellbeing benefits packages.

Some of the SME companies I consult with are often still unaware of the scale of the problem despite making progressive strides with supporting working parents and even menopause.

We know that, even for larger companies who outsource health and wellbeing benefits packages, there has been a record spike in the last year of employees seeking support following relationship breakdown.

Zurich UK released data in May this year revealing a 67% year-on-year increase in the number of employees seeking counselling for anxiety related stress.

The same data revealed a sharp rise in calls about problems outside of the workplace with a 73% rise in the number of calls about divorce.

So, as the cost of living crisis continues, I’m increasingly asked how businesses can best prepare for the impact this will have on their employees and minimise damage to the business.

UK businesses are still struggling to get back on their feet post pandemic, so the need to better equip HR departments with the training or resources to support employees facing separation or divorce is more important than ever.

Early identification of such issues ensures swifter intervention which then maximises the likelihood of a continued presence at work – or the employee making a successful return to work.

Proactive and preventative care is essential to boost productivity and reduce the risk of mental health related absence.

My accredited team is often called upon by business owners and HR directors because they recognise the need for these specialist skills which can’t always be covered by generic counselling or therapeutic support.

Our coaching provides fast transformations and clients can see immediate results from our individually tailored sessions.

One of the first areas we look at is how the break-up impairs the ability to make good decisions, to focus, to stay motivated and productive and to manage teams of people.

Divorce can have a huge impact on mental and even physical health resulting in absenteeism with time off sick and for stress.

Once we understand this process, we start to look at what can be done to create a supportive working environment throughout their time of personal crisis.

As a bare minimum, all employers should have a family breakdown policy – and this should be easily accessible for all employees.

There should be a clear and designated support group or assigned personnel.

Businesses should also try and incorporate talks, seminars or even one to one coaching sessions on the subject of relationship breakdown as part of their existing benefits and wellness packages.

The good news is there are lots of steps that can help reduce the negative impact for both the employee and employer including:

  1. Communicate openly and offer support and understanding – if an employee feels valued and supported it will encourage them to do their best for the business.
  2. Identify key areas of concern for the employee before they become an issue – this will be vital in damage limitation.
  3. Find solutions that will help employees maintain and manage their workload – they may need to rely more heavily on other team members at times.
  4. Flexible hours – this will help reduce absenteeism and enable them to attend legal meetings and manage any new childcare arrangements.
  5. Nip any office gossip in the bud – this prevents a toxic environment in the workplace from spreading and tensions from rising.
  6. Provide access to specific support for breakups and divorce – if the employee can work through their personal issues outside the workplace it will enable them to be more focused and productive when they are at work

Above all, employees need impartial emotional support, so they can make long-term decisions which are right for them and their family. 

A divorce coach can help someone deal with the negative emotions as well as equipping them with practical advice on how to cope with breaking up early on in the process. It enables a person to let go and move forward in a healthier and more productive way.

If employers can ensure that their employee has the right support inside and outside of the workplace it will drastically reduce the negative impact on the business.

If employees have the right tools they can not only survive their divorce but go on to thrive. A business that has stood by their staff and supported them through their darkest moments creates loyal and highly motivated employees who are invested in the company and its long-term growth.

Sara Davison is an author, known as The Divorce Coach and founder of The International Divorce Coach Centre Of Excellence.