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Supporting an employee through a relationship break up

Most people will go through a relationship break up at some point in their lives and research has found that sadly 48% of marriages end in divorce (ONS 2014). It’s not easy to completely separate work and personal life, so stress and difficulties at home are likely to affect an employee’s work in some way.

The British Chamber of Commerce estimates that divorce costs the British economy around £46 billion each year, negatively impacting business productivity and employee wellbeing.

Organisations generally have no formal policy or procedure and little acknowledgement of what impact divorce and separation can have on a person’s health and wellbeing. Yet, divorce is generally listed as one of the top five most stressful events to take place in a person’s life, along with experiencing a family bereavement.

Whilst an employer should normally try to avoid getting too involved in personal lives, you can go about supporting an employee in a number of ways.

How to help

If you know a member of your team is going through a break up, separation or divorce, treat them with sensitivity and compassion. Employers can have a huge influence in ensuring that their employees feel supported when going through relationship breakdowns.

If an employee opens up to you about a break up, remember the following dos and don’ts:

Dos

  • Take them to one side for an informal one-to-one chat and ask if everything is OK
  • Listen and wait until they finish talking. You might be the only person there to listen to them
  • If their work has deteriorated, be understanding and mention you have seen a change in their work and ask if they are having any issues in the workplace. If so, try to address this as you would any other work-related issue
  • Limit your conversation to how you can support them at work (e.g. reducing workload, compassionate leave)
  • Most employees who have suffered a bereavement of a family member have the right to a ‘reasonable’ amount of time off work. Divorce and separation can be as traumatic as bereavement as there is often the same sense of loss, so keep this in mind
  • Be understanding if they need to spend time seeking legal advice, going to court hearings etc
  • Arrange regular catch-ups so you can review their workload and the support you provide
  • Let them know they can contact Ben’s free and confidential helpline and online chat for further support and advice.

Don’ts

  • Become directly involved
  • Make promises you can’t keep
  • Put more work on their plate if you don’t think they can cope.

Warning signs

If you’re not sure whether someone is going through a relationship break up or having a hard time at home, you can look out for warning signs. There’s no specific way to tell is someone is having problems in their personal life, however a good place to start is by looking out for changes in their behaviour. These may include:

  • Changes in productivity – when someone is stressed and distracted they may make uncharacteristic errors, miss deadlines and find it hard to concentrate
  • Absenteeism and timekeeping – a noticeable increase in sick days may be a sign that all is not well at home. You may also notice someone taking longer lunch breaks or arriving late
  • Presenteeism – is the member of staff distracted or missing deadlines? Are they not interacting with the team in their usual way? Is their work not up to their usual standards?
  • Working late – it might be that an employee who was once keen to leave on time is now making excuses to stay late in order to avoid going home
  • Phone calls – is your employee nipping out to take more phone calls than usual? It is natural that people facing challenges at home can bring them into the workplace as they are keen to deal with them as quickly as possible
  • Changes in mood – stress can cause normally mild-mannered individuals to begin snapping at their colleagues or an extrovert to suddenly retreat from social interaction. If someone seems more short-tempered, emotional, tearful or introverted than usual, keep an eye on their behaviour and follow the dos and don’ts above.

We’re here

Ben exists to provide support for life to the people of the automotive industry and their families. You can download a leaflet to print off and put on your noticeboard or leave in your staff room so colleagues are aware that we’re here to help them get back on track.

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