December 5, 2014

Relationship breakdowns in business: advice for employers

by Norman Taylor, collaborative family lawyer

I was saddened but not surprised to read how one in seven employees revealed that relationship breakdowns have set productivity plummeting in their workplaces.

The findings of a Resolution survey which interviewed 4,000 adults online also highlighted that 9% of staff either had to leave their jobs as a result of divorce or separation from a cohabiting relationship – or knew a colleague who had done so. Six per cent of recipients said work colleagues had been off ill with the stress of a breakup – and 5% outlined how separation or divorce had reduced productivity.

Among the worrying revelations is that only 10% of workers think their employers offer adequate support for employees going through a breakup, while 34% say more support is needed in the workplace for people undergoing separation or divorce.

I wholeheartedly agree with the survey’s findings – particularly against a backdrop where stress caused by divorce has been exacerbated by the demise of Legal Aid.

The report is a strong call to action for employers and their directors and managers to take measures to ensure that the welfare of their people remains a priority. There are over two million small businesses in Britain – i.e. companies with less than 50 staff – and it is vital that employees are on top form. Having one or more off sick invariably affects the bottom line.

It is likewise inevitable that the impact of undergoing marriage and relationship breakdowns will also permeate people’s working lives. Therefore anything that can be done to support workers going through trauma and problems should be encouraged as the right and logical thing to do for the sake of the business.

With 42% of UK marriages expected to end in divorce, we have previously mooted the idea of employers introducing workplace divorce surgeries as a staff perk – stressing how seeking out expert legal advice at the early stages of a relationship breakdown can help prevent confrontation and chaos later.

Although there is a plethora of information available these days, I still find that there are a lot of urban myths still abounding. For example, only recently clients have come to us believing that there is a legally recognised relationship often referred to as the “common law wife”, that in relationship breakdowns everything is split “down the middle”, that children of separating couples live automatically with their mother – and that every divorce case has to go to Court for a decision on financial matters – all of which are not true. Bosses are therefore advised to speak to an enlightened family lawyer to dispel these myths and put things into context.

The family lawyer is the gatekeeper/project manager who can identify what sort of help is required in any particular case. The employer should benefit as well as the employee, as what is good for one is generally good for the other. It will also show the member of staff that their boss cares – certainly something that will make a difference to the employee.

Employers can also take action by commissioning an experienced life coach to support their people though the non-legal issues that arise at this difficult moment of change. This support can help workers to get into a mind-set where they can make rational rather than emotional decisions.

The countdown to Christmas and the festive break is undoubtedly a period when extreme emotional and financial pressures can push an unstable relationship into breakdown.

With this in mind, employers forecasting their sales and profitability figures for 2015 can also ensure they know how to access the available support required in such situations – for the wellbeing of their people and the financial health of the business.