When couples separate the emotional, psychological and physical fall out can be significant for them and for their children. It can impact too upon their ability to function well in every area of life, at home, at work and for children at school. Divorce can be as overwhelming as bereavement.

Employers can be amongst the first to know that something just isn't right with a trusted and valued employee. Exhaustion, weight loss, irritability, lack of concentration, distress, emotional volatility and a reduction in productivity are just some of the potential signs that all may not be well at home.

In the early stages of separation emotions are at their most raw and the ability to be objective and reasonable is often poor. Yet the decisions made at this early stage can have the most far reaching consequences for the couple and their children and indeed for all aspects of life going forward.

A well-managed separation can foster fairness in any financial settlement; security for children; the ability to co-parent in the future and reduced costs. The wider implications for an individual's ability to maintain his or her professional and workplace standards are obvious.

Every individual reacts to separation differently. But feelings of shock, disbelief, fury, guilt and loss are just some of the emotions which can overwhelm separating couples. It is not surprising then that some of these emotions can spill over into the workplace with potentially significant ramifications for employers. Productivity, decision making, the ability to manage and to think strategically may all be affected.

And yet the workplace can be a safe haven as well as a challenging environment. For many, being at work is a welcome escape from the reality of a failed relationship.

More significantly, for many, remaining in work is critical to future financial security. Separation brings many intended and unintended consequences. Along with grief, fear and insecurity there can be real concerns about money, property and how to survive alone.

What can employers do then to support staff at times of relationship breakdown?

  • Take your lead from the employee - they may need or want to maintain a normal working pattern and environment. For some, remaining stoically professional and maintaining privacy is the right approach.
  • Alternatively, they may look for some additional flexibility. Remember that flexible working requests can be made for reasons other than childcare. The employee might ask for this on a temporary basis. Having a period of time in which to recover whilst remaining in work will pay dividends for the employer and for the member of staff affected.
  • If the employee is struggling to maintain productivity or activity levels, it may be appropriate to invite them to talk about the situation and establish whether there is anything that you can do to help.
  • Be live to the possibility that emotional distress may be tipping over into mental health difficulties or depression. Do not be afraid to suggest counselling or medical intervention. There are many wise and astute counsellors who can provide couples with strategies to deal with the emotional impact of separation.
  • Consider reference to any form of employee assistance programme that you might have available. Even acknowledging the strain that the employee is under, will help them to feel supported and improve their chances of maintaining normal working patterns.
  • Guide colleagues to take advice from a lawyer who is an accredited family law specialist and who understands the dynamics of separation. It is not always easy to work out who to speak to, so having contact details to hand will often help. Look for practitioners with relevant experience. Collaborative law and mediation are two methods by which couples can resolve their differences in a constructive, amicable and child centred way.

If you would like to know more about how you can support your employees to deal with the impact of separation, you will find more information about potential strategies and methods of resolving things here.


Julie Keir

Practice Development Lawyer