Work-Life Balance: Employers And Divorce Support
Published on 01 February, 2023 | Judith Klyne
Just over 50 years ago, two US psychiatrists undertook a research project to determine the degree to which a variety of relatively common life events might stress those who experienced them.
The work of Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe considered the medical records of more than 5,000 individuals.
It was eventually published in 1967 and became known as the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1968-03998-001).
The study contained a couple of central points; namely, that few things are more likely to negatively impact our lives than the death of a spouse or divorce.
It is natural, of course, to expect any upsetting episode to affect our home and work lives.
The collapse of a possibly lengthy relationship might not just involve you and your spouse but children too.
Divorce can bring about a significant shift in circumstances, no matter how amicably it is handled.
Someone’s resources might change dramatically as a result of a financial settlement. They may even need to change location in order to continue to actively contribute to their child’s upbringing.
That is why I read with interest a report that well-known UK companies have added their weight to an initiative designed to support staff going through a divorce (https://www.personneltoday.com/hr/divorce-support-employees/).
The likes of Asda, Tesco, Metro Bank, PwC and Unilever have joined forces with the Positive Parenting Alliance (PPA) to “promote more family-friendly policies” for those dealing with divorce.
In my opinion, it is a very welcome development.
Myself and my colleagues are only too familiar with clients for whom the strain created by divorce is perhaps only comparable to bereavement.
However, whilst many businesses have policies to help those whose loved ones have passed away, it is unclear how many have formulated approaches to people confronting the realities of marital breakdown.
A commitment by those who have partnered with the PPA is an important first step towards making such a situation the rule rather than the exception across all sectors of the economy and firms of all sizes.
What is important for employers and employees, though, is not the idea but the execution.
Contrary to some media reports referring to ‘quickie’ divorces, the process is not necessarily a rapid one.
Figures published by the MInistry of Justice just before Christmas showed that it took 66 week on average from the submission of a divorce petition to the granting of a decree absolute (https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/family-court-statistics-quarterly-july-to-september-2022/family-court-statistics-quarterly-july-to-september-2022).
Although the terminology has changed as a result of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 taking effect last April – and, with it, ‘no-fault’ divorce – there is no guarantee that it will take less time to conclude.
Once petitions are issued under the new system, there is a mandatory 20-week ‘cooling off’ period before couples can apply for the first of two divorce decrees.
Therefore, if businesses are determined to support employees through divorce, they should appreciate that there may be an impact on productivity over an extended period.
For instance, individuals whose marriages have ended may require flexible working to prepare for or attend court proceedings or maintain contact with non-resident children.
There should arguably be a divorce policy in every workplace handbook. After all, it’s not exactly a unique event.
According to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 41 per cent of marriages in England and Wales have ended within 25 years of couples exchanging vows (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/divorce/bulletins/divorcesinenglandandwales/2021).
Regardless of the specific details, there is certainly a need for companies to at least consider making such provision available and ensure that employees are aware of their options should they find themselves in domestic disarray.
At a time when firms in a number of industries are being buffeted by recession and having difficulty recruiting and retaining staff (https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cdp-2023-0001/), offering this kind of support could be the difference between earning the trust of those whom are vital to your continued success.