A new study finds that relationship breakdown is damaging workplace mental health, with 56% of parents experiencing anxiety, depression or stress at work post-divorce

Divorce has been found to create a period of ‘divorce stress’, particularly affecting parents, which is impacting companies across the UK. Data from a recent study, conducted by specialist divorce lawyers Rayden Solicitors, found that employers were failing to offer the level of support needed.

3 out of 5 parents who have been through divorce or relationship breakdown felt their employers did not provide sufficient support to ease the emotional impact caused by their divorce, and in the worst cases this drives employees away completely. Parents are twice as likely to leave work entirely compared to divorcees without children – nearly 1 in 12 parents will resign within a year post-divorce.

Parents reported serious issues affecting their work in the aftermath of divorce. 56% experienced anxiety, depression or stress in the workplace. As well as this, a third of parents said their divorce led to decreased productivity, and 23% had to take sick or unpaid leave.

The 2021 Divorce in the Workplace study asked employees from 133 UK companies who have been through a divorce or relationship separation how this impacted their ability to work, whether their workplace supported them sufficiently, and what more could be done to help others going through similar circumstances.

How can HR teams better support parent employees going through divorce?

Working parents identified the following key areas for improvement in the workplace to ease the process of going through a divorce:

  • More support for mental wellbeing – 41% stated that their company could have provided more psychological and mental health support.
  • Greater potential for flexible working – 33% wanted more leeway on flexible working to attend separation proceedings and meetings.
  • Offer compassionate leave – 28% felt that an offer of compassionate leave would have better supported them.
  • Integrate back to the office – 1 in 10 parents stated that working from home contributed to separation, this number halved for non-parents.

Employers must acknowledge differences: Male employees are most vulnerable to negative impact

Both men and women in the UK felt the impact of their divorce followed them into the workplace. However, the data shows that male employees are more likely to be affected – 93% stated that their divorce or relationship breakdown had an effect on their ability to work, whereas 74% of female employees felt this impact.

Although women were overall less negatively affected in their work, for those whose divorce did impact their work, the effects were more widespread:

54% stated that it affected their work, causing them anxiety, depression, or stress. This figure was 36% for male employees.
35% of female employees stated that divorce and relationship separation led to decreased productivity. This figure was 24% for male employees.
23% of female respondents required sick leave or unpaid leave from the workplace due to their divorce or separation.

Commenting on the findings, Senior Partner at Rayden Solicitors Katherine Rayden, says:

“We might think of divorce as a very private and personal issue, but the truth is that going through a divorce is something that weighs down on every aspect of that person’s life. For those divorcing who might spend the majority of their daily lives in a job role, work life is no exception to this. Divorce will often be an emotional process, and it’s clear from this data that individuals’ work lives are negatively impacted by the emotional strain of divorce.  It seems that there is more that could be done by HR teams and workplaces to minimise the ripple effect of a divorce. 

“Employers need to be sensitive to the fact that divorce can affect their staff beyond their personal lives. Providing the appropriate support will put employees in a better position to cope with their divorce. It’s in the best interest of both the business and its people for employers to meet this need.”

Lina Mookerjee, senior accredited member of BACP, a consultant counsellor, psychotherapist and mindfulness facilitator, says:

“When facing a major life change through relationship breakdown, separation or divorce, this can create significant psychological stress. The stress response is designed for short periods but when experienced for six months and longer, it becomes known as chronic stress. The prolonged release of adrenaline and cortisol adversely impacts physical and psychological functioning, including the capacity to recover after illness and be resilient.

“Physically, there’s a greater propensity to feel rundown, tired, develop digestive issues, aches, pains and skin problems and generally feeling unwell. Psychologically, the capacity to focus, stay present and process information can become difficult.

“Coping mechanisms become relied on, including the overuse of caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. As these are stressors, they help to perpetuate the relentless hamster wheel effect. It’s important employers and their HR teams recognise these emotional consequences and demonstrate their responsibility for vital care and nurture. Stress is not a sign of weakness but a sign of being human in need of support to regain their balance and equilibrium.”

Kirsten Keen, HR expert at Cluer HR, says:

“With most relationship breakdowns comes a huge amount of stress, hurt and heartbreak and from that breeds lack of concentration, low mood and even depression. All this is inevitably going to impact on a person’s ability to perform well in their role.

If that person is a valued, respected member of the business, it surely goes without saying that it’s therefore in the business’s interest to support that person through their difficult time – continuing to get the best from them and ultimately, retaining talent.

It can be as simple as being flexible – allowing employees to attend solicitor meetings and court hearings in work time, for example. Offering counselling services to staff – not just for issues that relate directly to work, but for personal issues, such as relationship breakdowns. Nurturing a culture whereby people talk about their homelife and are open about problems can also be helpful.

Yes, you might lose a bit of time by allowing them to attend solicitor appointments, for example, but if that helps to make them feel less stressed and get their life sorted, the employer will benefit in the long-run too – retaining an employee who can concentrate on their work, be more productive and who feels valued and understood!”