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Providing HR support for employees with relationship difficulties

When a relationship ends – whether a couple is going through divorce proceedings or ending a period of co-habitation – this can have a huge impact on a member of staff’s work life.

What are the common effects of a relationship breakdown on employees in the workplace?

  • Lack of focus
  • Lack of concentration
  • Reduction in performance
  • Low morale
  • Lower self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Irritability with other staff members
  • Increase in stress levels
  • Swinging emotions from crying, becoming withdrawn, to shouting, behaving badly and out of character

Surviving relationship breakdowns:

Divorced employees need more HR support

Family breakdown poses hidden risk for HR

Family issues major cause of employee distress

How does this affect the employers?

  • A reduction in productivity by the individual employee, which can affect wider team performances
  • High levels of staff absenteeism due to sick leave and lateness to work
  • High staff turnover with the loss of valuable employees
  • Poor decision-making by the employee
  • Increase in mistakes made
  • A lowering of staff morale among those who work with or alongside the employee

What can HR staff do to help their employees?

Employers have a broad duty of care to ensure employee health, safety and welfare. HR staff can support an employee going through a relationship breakdown by:

  • Creating a safe and supportive space for employees, lend a listening ear. Give them time and space to express their emotions
  • Provide wellbeing support and prevent them from developing any unhealthy work patterns and put strategies in place to help the employee move away from unhealthy behaviours

  • Where possible, offer flexible working arrangements to help the employee as they adjust to new personal circumstances

  • Support and signpost the employee to obtain professional advice, from a specialist family lawyer, to domestic abuse support, counselling/therapy, health-related services and financial advice

  • Be aware of alternative services for individuals from an ethnic minority background, in a same-sex relationship, from the LGBTQ+ community or those who have a disability
  • Recognise that each person will deal with and respond to a relationship breakdown differently. Adapt your approach and polices to the individual person’s needs

  • Keep track of any new or existing government initiatives that can help staff during a time of crisis. For example, on 14 January 2021 the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy published Research and Analysis on Workplace support for victims of domestic abuse (found at uk/government/publications)

  • Keep information you learn confidential and always treat staff fairly and equally

  • Have a policy or plan setting out the support an employee can expect to receive and the employer’s obligations, including separate sections on policies for victims of domestic abuse

  • Work on any issues collaboratively with the employee. Remaining professional whilst being compassionate

What are the benefits of a good HR approach to an employee’s relationship breakdown?

The benefit of providing this level of HR support is enormous to employers. Early intervention by employers and HR teams trained to spot the signs of difficulties will provide the required support for the employee, enabling positive changes to their lives at home and at work.

Susan J Williams, partner and head of family at law firm Ince (Cardiff)