How to Support Employees Going Through a Divorce

The key to helping an employee through his or her divorce is by finding a way to balance compassion with professionalism.
comforting employee
Divorce rates are high in the U.S. and so are your chances of having an employee go through one at some point or another. How do you help while remaining focused on business goals? (Photo: Lok Nek/Shutterstock)

Going through a divorce or breakup can affect all aspects of a person’s life, including their physical, mental and emotional well-being. So when an employee is dealing with this difficult situation, it’s no wonder that the stress can be carried over into the workplace.

While part of running a business is maintaining a level of professionalism, as a small business owner, you have a unique opportunity to be there for your staff when their world flips upside down.

Jana Tulloch

A successful manager knows how to connect with their team members and realize when something is off, said HR pro Jana Tulloch. (Photo: Jana Tulloch)

Here are a few ways business owners and supervisors can recognize an employee in need and offer certain accommodations, while still maintaining a professional relationship.

Related: Dealing With Grief in the Workplace

Recognize there’s a problem

When an employee is under extreme amounts of stress, his or her behavior will likely change. As a boss, it’s important to understand changes in behavior and attitude may be from stressors at home.

“One of the key elements of being a successful manager is how well they’re able to connect with their team members and recognize early on when someone isn’t their normal self,” explained Jana Tulloch, HR manager of technical training firm DevelopIntelligence. “Divorce is an emotional and stressful time for people, and they are very rarely cordial even if they start out that way. Signs that an employee may be going through a divorce can manifest as emotional at work, distracted, lower performance and increased absences or lateness.”

Stress and the uncertainty of their future — from needing to find new living arrangements, dealing with a potential custody battle and coping with new financial responsibilities — will all take their toll on a person’s health and work performance. He or she may arrive later than normal, ask to leave early or have more frequent appointments that require extra time off. Often, an otherwise social, amiable employee will start keeping to him or herself or complain about being more tired than usual.

Offer support

While divorce isn’t a blank check to excuse any behavior, it does give you more perspective while dealing with any issues that may arise.

Without prying or crossing a professional boundary, supervisors should try to identify the cause of an employee’s changing behavior. This will better guide your next steps. Sometimes it’s as simple as an employee confiding in you, and other times you may need to gently comment on their changing behavior and ask if you can do anything to help.

Related: How Bosses Can Improve Relationships With Employees

“The key is to let the individual know you are there to support them in whatever way you can, which can be different depending on the person and their particular situation,” explained Tulloch. “Asking the question and letting them know that you care is the first step; talking about the impact is secondary. Often employees just need someone to know, as way of an explanation for decreased performance or changed behavior.”

balance rocks

As a business owner, it’s important to find the balance between offering support when an employee is going through a difficult time at home without letting your business suffer. (Photo: Smile Studio/Shutterstock)

Make a plan to improve work performance

Depending on the individual’s personality, some people will throw themselves into their work when under stress and appear to be coping fine. Others, unfortunately, may experience a decline in performance.

If you notice this, try to take a proactive approach. Phrases like “I’ve noticed a problem in your work” can fill an already exhausted and anxious employee with dread. When you address the situation, be sure to offer a solution to make the problem seem manageable.

Related: How to Have a Difficult Conversation with an Employee

It doesn’t need to be an extensive improvement plan, but find a way to convey there is a way out of their work-related problems. By offering a solution, you are letting the employee know that while you’ve noticed their performance decline, you want to help him or her fix it.

“In some cases, employees may not see the impact to their work that their distraction with personal issues is having, and a frank discussion with them would be needed,” said Tulloch. “Collaborate with the individual to problem solve and come to an agreement about what steps each of you can take in the short term to get through this period.”

The key, she said, is creating a culture of kindness and giving them the opportunity (and help they need) to improve.

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