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The 2021 Divorce in the Workplace UK study – are companies set up to support employees?

“79% of UK employees state that divorce and relationship breakdown had an impact on their ability to work”, though “57% did not feel they received the required support” from their employers.

Specialist divorce lawyers Rayden Solicitors recently conducted this study to get a better insight into how divorce and relationship breakdown might impact workplaces

The past year of lockdowns is reported to have caused significant strain on relationships. In September, the Citizen’s Advice charity reported a 25% increase in visits to its divorce page compared to the previous year. With higher reported incidence of relationship difficulties, it is even more important that HR departments have a policy in place to support employees in the event of a divorce or relationship breakdown. 

What impact does divorce or relationship separation have on an employee, and how can UK businesses and HR teams better support their workforces?

At Rayden Solicitors, we wanted to address the impact that divorce or relationship breakdown can have on employees in UK workplaces. We asked employees at 133 workplaces across the UK who have gone through divorce or separation to create the 2021 Divorce in the Workplace study.

This provided first hand data on how this impacted their ability to work, whether their workplace offered sufficient support, and what could be done to better support employees.

Top findings: 

When asking UK employees who have gone through divorce or relationship separation, the study found that:

  • 57% did not feel they received the required support from their employers
  • 79% stated that divorce or relationship breakdown had an impact on their ability to work.
  • The majority of these – 60% – stated that it impacted their mental health in the workplace, causing anxiety, depression, or stress.
  • For just under 1 in 10, it resulted in them leaving the company within the year post-divorce. For 1 in 50, this was due to being let go by the company within the year post-divorce.
  • SME employees are 4 times more likely to leave the company within a year of going through a divorce than if working at a large company. 
  • Male employees in the UK are more likely to be affected – 93% stated that it impacted their ability to work.
  • 42% state that their company could have provided more psychological and mental health support.
  • 1 in 9 UK employees who have gone through divorce or relationship breakdown stated that work pressure hindered the relationship and contributed to the divorce.

How does divorce impact UK employees in the workplace?

For those going through divorce without sufficient support, the effects of divorce can impact almost every aspect of their life.

The study reveals the toll of going through divorce on employees in the UK:

  • 79% of UK workers felt that it impacted their ability to work. 
  • 60% said that it impacted their mental health, causing anxiety, depression or stress.
  • 23% of workers who went through a divorce or separation had to take sick or unpaid leave 

The findings also show that going through a divorce or relationship separation has an effect on UK workers’ ability to function properly at work – 39% reported a decrease in their productivity and 15% admitted they made more errors or were involved in workplace accidents when going through divorce or separation.

Going through a divorce even led to some UK workers leaving the company altogether – nearly 1 in 10 UK workers left within the year post-divorce, and for 1 in 50 workers this was due to being let go by the company.

What is the impact of insufficient support at work for employees going through divorce?

  • Greater chance of leaving the company – 1 in 8 employees left the company within the year if their employers provided insufficient support during the divorce or separation. This compares to 1 in 20 of those that did have sufficient support.
  • More likely impact on ability to work – 76% of employees who did not have sufficient support felt their work was impacted vs. 82% of employees who felt sufficiently supported by work.
  • Greater chance of decreased productivity – 42% of those who did not have sufficient support experienced lower productivity vs. 35% of those who did have support.
  • More likely to suffer from mental health issues – 62% of employees said it caused anxiety, depression or stress vs. 58% of those who said they had sufficient support.

Are there any differences for male and female employees?

With a clear majority of employees feeling that their ability to work has suffered as a consequence of divorce, how does the impact felt differ between male and female employees? 

  • Male employees in the UK were found to be more likely to be impacted by divorce in the workplace – 93% stated that it affected their ability to work
  • In comparison, 74% of female employees stated that divorce or relationship breakdown had an impact on their ability to work

However, for women that found divorce to have an impact on their work, these effects were more widespread:

  • 54% stated that it affected their work causing them anxiety, depression, or stress. This figure was 36% for male employees.
  • 35% of female employees stated that divorce and relationship separation led to decreased productivity. This figure was 24% for male employees.
  • 23% of female respondents required sick leave or unpaid leave from the workplace due to the divorce or relationship separation.

How does the impact of divorce change depending on the size of the company?

The greatest impact for employees across all size companies was the effect on mental health, however, there was some variation in the impact of the divorce on the employee’s personal and professional life depending on the number of employees at the company. 

SMEs

  • SME employees are 4 times more likely to leave the company within a year of going through a divorce than if working at a large company. 
  • 1 in 50 employees that worked for an SME was let go by the company within the year.
  • 14% resigned and left the company within the year.

Large companies

  • Employees from large companies were the most likely to be impacted at work – 85% stated their ability to work was affected.
  • These employees were also most likely to be impacted by decreased productivity.

Enterprise companies

  • Employees from companies with 1,000 or more workers are most likely to be affected by mental health issues after divorce or relationship separation – 63% said their divorce caused them anxiety, depression or stress.

What could HR teams have done better when their employees were going through a divorce or separation?

With working from home becoming more commonplace, HR teams will have to ensure they are set up to support employees for the knock-on effects that this is likely to have. 9% thought that working from home contributed to their separation

When asked: ‘Did you struggle with any of the following that should have been provided by the HR department to better support employees going through separation or divorce?’ UK employees responded as follows:

  • 42% stated that their company could have provided more psychological and mental health support.
  • 33% wanted more leeway on flexible working to attend separation proceedings and meetings
  • 32% felt that an offer of compassionate leave would have better supported them.
  • 27% wanted more simple recommendations for support organisations or separation counselling.
  • 26% felt there was too much gossip from colleagues, and wanted better protection from HR to maintain privacy.
  • 11% of UK employees stated that work pressure hindered their relationship and contributed to their divorce.
  • 11% wanted greater support on childcare from the workplace.

It is clear from the study’s findings that more remains to be done to support employees during and in the aftermath of a separation or divorce. Companies should put support measures into practice that will help employees to cope mentally and emotionally with the divorce process as well as minimise the impact of divorce on their performance at work – for the benefit of the employees as well as the business.

Where to find support on issues raised in this study:

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