Relationship breakdowns - Should employers offer support?

  • Occupational Health
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Relationship breakdowns can be one of the biggest causes of stress and unhappiness in life so it is inevitable that a relationship breakdown can have a strong impact on productivity within the workplace. It makes good business sense for employers to acknowledge the role they can play in assisting their employees through the upheaval of a relationship breakdown. Employers cannot ignore the impact of a relationship breakdown may have on the welfare and productivity of their employees. Employees may find themselves in a position of uncertainty about their family, the future, whilst facing financial, childcare and living difficulties. Work may suddenly become secondary, having a direct impact on business. Employees may be worried about legal procedures, financial disagreements, the impact on the children, time off work and the cost of solicitors and barristers’ fees. Their anguish at home may inevitably spill over into the workplace, leading to disruption, disharmony, depression, stress, anxiety and ultimately reduced work productivity or even job loss. Employers can have a huge influence in ensuring that their employees feel supported when going through relationship breakdowns by running employee assistance programmes (EAP) that offer staff confidential support including counselling, information, guidance and referrals on any work, personal or family issues. These services save employees time, stress and anxiety, and enable them to stay more focused and productive at work. As well as a dramatic change in emotions, practical difficulties may arise in the breakdown. If the employee is getting divorced they may need time off work to attend meetings with solicitors, barristers and even court hearings, or to prepare their own case for court, if they can’t afford legal assistance. Working hours may need to be changed to accommodate new childcare responsibilities. The employee may need to face the issue of child maintenance being deducted from wages by the Child Maintenance Service. Information may need to be provided on pension splitting in divorce. The more prepared the employer is the easier the employee will find this process. Employers can also show support by being familiar with organisations that offer advice and information on the alternative approaches to managing relationship breakdown. With mediation, a trained mediator provides a structured and informed environment in which parties can discuss and negotiate matters relating to their separation, including finances and children. In the collaborative process, both parties instruct their own solicitors and all meet together to work things out face-to-face in a constructive and non-contentious environment. While working together collaboratively, the parties have the support and legal advice of their own solicitors as they go. It is important that employers bear in mind that each employee will respond differently to a relationship breakdown. Some employees will find solace in work and find them able to stay focused and productive, whilst others will feel threatened by the prospect of losing their source of security and everyday lifestyle as they knew it. They could benefit from being assigned less stressful projects at work and given more flexibility, or even some time off, to help them deal with a breakdown.

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