Psychological, social and financial problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have left many South African marriages broken beyond repair, with the result that the number of divorce cases has escalated since March 2020. International research studies have found a causal link between lower productivity and divorce issues that can stretch into months and years. The effects of divorce are also known to elevate stress and anxiety levels that can lead to poor health and increased healthcare costs both for the employee and the organisation.
“Psychological, social and financial problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have left many South African marriages broken beyond repair…”
“The effects of divorce or relationship breakup can be harmful to a work environment.”
As a leader or manager you are bound to be met with the people-challenges related to one of your employees experiencing relationship troubles, going through a divorce or ending a partnership. The effects of divorce or relationship breakup can be harmful to a work environment. Employees battling through a divorce may cease to be punctual or miss work entirely. Their performance standards may drop and they could show a decline in productivity. And though they may be at work, they could well be absent mentally and emotionally.
Here are [number] ways you can support employees going through a relationship breakdown:
Respect your employee’s privacy
As a manager, if one of your employees has confided in you that they are going through a separation or divorce, they have placed their trust in you to keep this information private. You can respect their privacy by:
- Keeping the information to yourself
- Reassuring them what they have told you will stay confidential
- Only speaking to them about it in a private setting
Divorces can take months and years to be finalised. So, once clear confidentiality boundaries have been established, be prepared to keep their confidence for years to come. It is up to your employee if and when they would like to tell their colleagues.
Treat your employee as an individual
It is important to make sure your employees are well supported when going through a divorce or the breakdown of a relationship. It is helpful to remember that every employee is an individual and will experience the breakup of their relationship in their own way. This requires you to be flexible to suit their specific needs as well as changes in their circumstances.
Your employee may need time off care for their children or they may need to attend meetings with their attorney during working hours. Whenever possible, employers should offer flexible work schedules and approve time off to assist employees who need to attend court dates, participate in meetings with attorneys and arrange child care. If necessary, you should be prepared to give your employee an extended leave of absence, if required.
“It is important to make sure your employees are well supported when going through a divorce or the breakdown of a relationship.”
“With the advent of COVID-19, organisations have begun to take mental health and the holistic care of their employees more seriously.”
Offer support of your employee’s mental wellbeing
With the advent of COVID-19, organisations have begun to take mental health and the holistic care of their employees more seriously. Sometimes employees going through a divorce falter and must be counselled on poor performance. Other times, they may need someone objective to simply listen as they talk about what they are going through. If one of your employees is going through a relationship breakdown you can offer support to your staff member by providing them with counselling resources through an employee assistance programme (EAP), for mental health support. Your EA practitioner will refer them to longer-term therapy or counselling if need be.
Expect consistent performance standards
Employees who are going through a divorce or breakup should understand that they are subject to the same performance standards as any other employee. Since the divorce process can create significant upheaval, simply providing a consistent work environment may provide some normalcy for the employee and be the safe haven the employee needs. Also, by ensuring the employee understands the benefits and policies that may apply to their situation, the employee will be better able to plan and make informed decisions on how to navigate through their personal circumstances outside of work.
Your employee may unaware of Rule 43
It is possible that many people elect to stay in their unhappy marriages as they are anxious about the effect divorce will have on their finances, the care of their children, and the wherewithal to pay the legal fees attached to divorce proceedings. It is important to know that a Rule 43 application, can be instituted at any stage of divorce proceedings, subject to a divorce summons having already been issued and served. A Rule 43 application, which is non-gender specific, is one where the High Court provides for interim assistance during divorce actions. This interim relief must, however, relate to one of the following categories:
- Maintenance for a spouse and/or minor child pending the outcome of the divorce proceedings
- A contribution towards the legal fees of the divorce
- Interim residency and care of any minor child
- Interim contact with any minor child
Relationship breakdowns are extremely traumatic periods, and the mental wellbeing of your staff member should take priority. Being understanding and accommodating during this difficult time will increase the chances that the employee will take the time they need and then return to work unaffected. Without essential support and flexibility, there is the risk that an employee might experience burnout and be forced to leave their role.