How businesses can best support employees facing divorce as peak divorce season beckons

Woman feeling alone during christmas holiday

January is well established as the landmark month for divorce filings to spike, with the first full working day now coined as ‘National Divorce Day’.

National Divorce Day is coming!

Divorce tends to spike at pivotal points in the family calendar, such as Christmas or the long summer holiday period, which provide time for reflection away from the distraction of routine. It’s also a time when family finances are stretched the limit. This combination can be the inevitable melting pot for the increase in tensions and the magnifier of disputes. If the foundations are already rocky, then holidays have a way of holding a mirror up to the relationship and it could well mean make or break time.

Financial pressure is known to be one of the biggest catalysts for relationship breakdown. So, it’s no surprise that the crippling cocktail of soaring energy, food and household bills, inflation and looming recession has led to a spike in divorce filings and inquiries over the last year. Financial uncertainty and hardship creates fear, anxiety and inevitable tension and conflict as couples clash over budget priorities, debt management and spending patterns. Let alone the unthinkable prospect of unemployment. Even the healthiest of relationships are going through the mill right now and, sadly, the situation looks set to get worse before it gets better. 

Divorce devastates businesses

The Chamber Commerce estimates an annual cost of £48 billion to UK taxpayers because of family breakdown, with a more recent study indicating this could now be much higher at close to $300 billion2 annually. 

A survey3 commissioned 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 1 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 for those working in a large company with better access to health and wellbeing benefits packages. 

For some of the SME companies I consult with, divorce is still a relatively grey area with many still unaware of the scale of the problem, nor the direct correlation between relationship breakdown and workplace productivity. This may sound surprising considering the progressive strides made with supporting working parents and even, more recently, menopause. Especially when you consider that everyone experiences heartbreak at some point in their life. 

Spike in employee requests for separation support

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 following pandemic stress and the increase in home working. Zurich UK released data4 in May 2022 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 SME companies, in particular, 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. 

What can businesses do to support employees with separation?

As The Divorce Coach, I’m often called upon by business owners and HR Directors because I run a trusted and accredited programme and they recognise the need for these specialist skills which can’t always be covered by generic counselling or other run of the mill therapeutic support. 

One of the first areas we look at is divorce itself. We look at the ripple effect it has on a employee in all aspects of their life and how, as an all-consuming process, it impairs their 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 look at what can be done to create a supportive working environment. 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. Moreover, they should try and incorporate talks, seminars or even one to one coaching sessions on the subject of relationship breakdown as part of their existing benefits / wellness packages. Employees need to know that it’s acknowledged and that impartial advice and help is accessible.  

Join our growing network of employers
Receive Make A Difference News straight to your inbox

The good news is there are lots of things that can help reduce the negative impact for both the employee and employer. Some of these steps include: 

  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. Offer flexible hours – this will help reduce absenteeism and enable them to attend legal meetings and manage any new childcare arrangements.
  5. Working from home can help employees to juggle new child care arrangements and coparenting responsibilities  
  6. Paid leave for court appearances and even for emotional recovery as with bereavement
  7. Nip any office gossip in the bud – this prevents a toxic environment in the workplace from spreading and tensions from rising.
  8. Provide access to specific support for breakup, divorce and domestic abuse – if the employee can work through their personal issues it will enable them to be more focused and productive when they are at work

It’s widely accepted that every separating couple needs legal advice, because these are huge decisions concerning children and finances. But divorce is about so much more than the legal process, it’s a re-defining moment in someone’s life. 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 become ‘emotionally ready’ 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. It will still be a rollercoaster of emotions and practical challenges for the employee to navigate but if they have the tools to do so 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.

About the author

Sara Davison, ‘The Divorce Coach’, is a world-renowned authority on breakup, divorce and domestic abuse. A twice bestselling author (UncouplingThe Split) and podcaster, Sara empowers individuals to take back control of their lives and unlock their full potential. Combining 30 years of coaching experience together with insights from her own marriage breakdown, Sara guides clients through heartbreak, betrayal, conflict, confidence-building, co-parenting, workplace challenges during divorce and dating again. Having pioneered the divorce coaching industry, Sara founded The International Divorce Coach Centre of Excellence, for those interested in becoming a Coach, and has built a coaching community of 500 Divorce Coaches, spanning 25 countries across five continents. Sara extended this coaching network to collaborate with HR departments and businesses supporting employees facing divorce or domestic abuse. Sara is an experienced media commentator and motivational speaker in the UK and US and is a regular expert on GB News, Good Morning Britain (ITV1), Talk TV and This Morning (ITV1). Sara is also a contributor for wellness and lifestyle platform, Goop. She also starred as the expert in Heartbreak Hotel, a television show based on her Breakup Recovery Retreats.






You might also like:



Sign up to receive Make A Difference's fortnightly round up of features, news, reports, case studies, practical tools and more for employers who want to make a difference to work culture, mental health and wellbeing.