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Why wellbeing strategy must account for breakup and divorce

"As a bare minimum, all employers should have a family breakdown policy," says coach Sara Davison

HR can improve productivity by tailoring their organisation’s benefits and wellbeing strategy towards supporting employees going through breakup and divorce.

The impact of breakup and divorce within the workplace reduces employee productivity by a staggering 40% for up to three years, research from Nashville Business Journal highlighted in March 2014. It’s clear that wellbeing strategies still don’t go far enough to adequately support this major life event and its devastating impact upon businesses, which has been estimated to have an annual cost of £48 billion.

A survey commissioned by Rayden Solicitors in 2021 found that 79% of employees stated that divorce and relationship breakdown had an impact on their ability to work. More than half (57%) of respondents claimed they did not receive the required support from their employers, resulting in almost one in 10 leaving the company within a year after their divorce.

Read more: Divorce policies: does your workplace need them?

Some 60% reported that their divorce impacted their mental health in the workplace, causing anxiety, depression or stress. A further 23% reported 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 people working in a large company with better access to health and wellbeing benefits packages.

Cited as the second most traumatic life experience – the first being the death of a loved one – divorce affects one in two people. Up to 70% of your workforce is dealing with the effects of divorce at any one time. 

The most vulnerable and high-risk group for breakup and divorce are mid-life. These employees are typically middle management, high-level decision-makers and subject matter experts.

Let’s do the maths. Take a UK-based company during 2022 employing 250-plus staff. On average, each employee generates £218,000 in revenue per annum. Considering that breakup and divorce reduces employee productivity by 40%, this means that for each member of your staff going through these life events, it cost your business £87,200 in lost revenue each year. This will continue for three years, equating to over £250,000 for just one employee going through divorce.

The financial impact does not end there. Co-worker productivity also reduces by 4%, and that of line managers by 2.5%.

Read more: Minimising the impact of separation and divorce in the workplace

Having a proactive and preventative wellbeing strategy around breakup, divorce and domestic abuse is essential for reducing the risk of mental-health-related absence, and maintaining productivity. Early identification of a problem and swift intervention also maximises the likelihood of a continued presence at work – or the employee making a successful return to work.

HR leaders should look to tailor organisational strategies so that they include:

  • Flexible working hours, to accommodate new childcare routines and responsibilities
  • Time out or a designated quiet space within the office, to regroup if things get too much
  • Options to work from home
  • Help with finding and accessing childcare support
  • Additional leave for attending court
  • Access to legal advice
  • Solutions that will help employees maintain and manage their workload; they may need to rely more heavily on other team members
  • Emotional support from specialists in breakup, divorce and domestic abuse as part of the employee benefit package
  • A domestic abuse policy, to safeguard and signpost employees dealing with toxic relationships, and
  • Training for managers, to help spot the signs and understand the needs of employees dealing with breakup, divorce and domestic abuse.

As a bare minimum, all employers should have a family breakdown policy. This should be easily accessible for all employees. There should be a clear and designated support group, or assigned personnel.

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

Culturally, HR leaders should also encourage open communication, ensuring that employees feel valued. It is also important to nip any office gossip in the bud. This prevents a toxic environment in the workplace and rising tensions.

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

By Sara Davison is an author, commentator and coach