Samantha Woodham: Supporting employees through a divorce

Samantha Woodham: Supporting employees through a divorce

42% of marriages end in divorce according to research by the Office for National Statistics, published in December 2012.

If you had a blank sheet of paper, it would be hard to devise a worse process for navigating the legal side of a separation than our adversarial system. It pits couples against each other, breeds mistrust and breaks down communication, causing huge financial and emotional harm to those involved. But why is any of this relevant to employers?

Only 10% of employees think their employers do enough to support them during family breakdown. The cost of divorce to the UK economy is £48 billion.

A You Gov poll undertaken with 500 high earners in January 2020, which was reported in The Times, found that more than two-thirds (69%) of those interviewed admitted to ‘significant’ problems in their relationships. The quote from one employee sets out the crux of the issue: “I get the sense that most employers believe you should leave all home problems at home. Yet employers expect work to be able to intrude on your home life. This has to be a two-way street.”

Nashville Business Journal found that in the six months leading up to, and in, the year of divorce, the divorcing employee’s productivity is reduced by 40%. Productivity will suffer on some level for seven years.

What can employers do to help?

For many years, employers have wanted to offer more support to their employees on relationship breakdown, consistent with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

There are three key ways in which they can.

Family breakdown policy: All employers should have one, setting out not only support available at work but also signposting employees to external sources of support.

Incorporating relationship breakdown into existing wellness programmes: Many employers offer annual presentations to employees on various wellness initiatives. Alongside talks on self-care and managing stress, there should be segments on how to approach divorce well, and how to co-parent well following a separation.

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Employee benefits schemes: Many employers are now attracted by the idea of getting their employees started on divorce in the best and most constructive way.

Samantha Woodham is a barrister and co-founder at The Divorce Surgery.