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Downgrading Divorce From Crisis To Process In The Workplace

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Divorce or the breakdown of a relationship is an extremely emotional process. People are often confused, filled with fear and unsure of how to navigate the process. Their world is turned upside down, triggering unsettling and distressful emotions. The effects of the emotional distress in the workplace can be devastating.

Close to 50 percent of marriages in North America end in divorce. The divorce rate rises to a staggering 60 percent and higher for subsequent divorces by these same individuals. Clearly, we need to employ strategies that will get everyone, including those caught in the middle -- often the children -- off the "divorce-go-round" and on to a better life. We need to encourage healthy new beginnings, even when divorce looks like an end.

On a classic rating scale of stressful life events, divorce consistently ranks number two -- second only to the death of a spouse or child. People often feel overburdened and lack confidence, so it's not surprising many buckle under the pressure.

Divorce undoubtedly reduces a worker's productivity. According to John Curtis of Integrated Organizational Development in Waynesville, N.C., the cost per worker going through a divorce is about $8,300, assuming an average wage of $19.50 per hour and a 50 percent to 75 percent drop in productivity. That estimate also includes days missed as the worker takes time off to deal with the legal, financial and psychological issues related to divorce.

Curtis' research also takes into account a drop in productivity by the worker's supervisor, as a result of time spent dealing directly and indirectly with performance and productivity issues, and a loss in productivity and increased workload by some of the worker's peers.

If a critical executive is faced with separation or divorce, it can have an even more dramatic impact on the organization.

And concerns go beyond just financial ones -- including the potential for workplace violence related to the breakup or child custody issues.

When employers are able to help employees through this all-too-common but difficult and potentially distracting situation, it can pay dividends for both. When workers are distracted, they make more mistakes and work more slowly. If they're feeling depressed, their creativity will drop.

If they're feeling angry, they may project some of that anger at co-workers and customers. Employee well-being can be affected by extra stress, depression and anxiety brought on by the financial impacts of divorce, childcare responsibilities and loneliness. This can, in turn, impact safety, morale and retention.

Furthermore, senior personnel often find themselves trying to manage department personnel who are coping with the aftermath of divorce, but are unsure as to how to counsel them.

So what should you do when a worker breaks the bad news about trouble on the homefront?

Here are a few tips for managers and HR professionals:
  • Be compassionate, empathetic and supportive -- do not act as a problem-solver.
  • Once an employee shares his personal situation with you, direct him to appropriate resources, such as the employee assistance program (EAP) or other appropriate individuals or departments.
  • Be a good listener: When an employee speaks about his or her personal issue, be respectful. Turn off the phone, turn away from your computer and listen. Show that you care. Avoid saying: "I've been through it too and I know what you are going through." Keep your distance and avoid becoming the go-to person for divorce issues. Maintain your role as manager and don't become the therapist. Avoid sharing personal details of your divorce and do not provide advice.
  • Refocus the employee so he gets his information from the experts and proper resources -- not divorced colleagues or media reports.

For more information about managing divorce in the workplace, contact Deborah Moskovitch to find out more about The Smart Divorce® Resource ToolKit. By implementing The Smart Divorce Resource ToolKit, an organization can offer value added programs with a focus towards providing health and productivity solutions. Contact info@thesmartdivorce.com
Deborah Moskovitch is president and founder of The Smart Divorce and creator of the Smart Divorce Resource Toolkit for employers. She can be reached at (905) 695-0270. For more information, visit www.thesmartdivorce.com