Helping employees through divorce or breakup

Divorce or relationship breakdown isn’t something that staff will easily talk about, but it can create turmoil that will affect focus, productivity and effectiveness in the workplace.Any significant loss can evoke a grief response and it rings true that grief is not exclusive to bereavement. Some definitions describe grief as ‘the conflicting emotions brought by the change of a familiar pattern’ and that change of pattern can relate to many forms of loss beyond the death of a loved one, including a relationship break up.


Grief, in any form, can seriously impact our mental and physical health, both in its own right and in addition to existing mental health and stress-related conditions. As a result, you may notice some key signs from affected employees, including changed attendance at work or arriving late, changed eating habits, extreme fatigue and becoming unusually irritable or impatient with normal day to day working tasks.

Breakups can be particularly difficult, especially as they can be messy and drag on for weeks on end and so it is important to ensure that there are holistic support frameworks in place to help employees going through this stressful life event. Look at your HR policies in advance and make sure they cover major life changes e.g. major health issues, bereavement, divorce, sickness of a relative and so on. If you have a structure in place to handle such events make sure staff know what that structure is and whom they should approach to discuss particular difficulties.


It can be said that one of the most effective ways to help someone going through a grieving process, particularly a breakup where emotions are high, is providing a safe space to talk through their feelings. Whilst it can be challenging for anyone involved, guide them gently to the support they might need. Ask them what support they have, and what they might need – don’t make assumptions as this could trigger their frustration and feel isolated. Support may be practical e.g. allowing flexible working, providing information on managing stress, allowing frequent breaks (tired brains will not focus for long)


These small steps will allow your employee to really feel the support, which in turn will maximise focus and productivity you need. Recognising what your staff member faces in a breakup/divorce and giving them a pathway to get through this successfully will benefit both you and your staff in the long run.


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