“How can I counsel an employee going through a divorce?”
I recently had a discussion with a high-powered businessman who said that whenever a team member of his is going through a divorce, he has to write-off their productivity for the year and have other members take-up the slack. This leader was recognizing the emotional toll of divorce on an employee and doing his best to compensate for it.
As our work becomes more enmeshed in our everyday life, it becomes nearly impossible to separate work from personal issues and divorce WILL have a major impact on job performance. Some of the issues that are faced by divorced individuals that will affect job performance are:
On a psychological level people going through a divorce experience stress, anxiety, depression, mood swings and even addictive behaviour. These come from fears about the future, loss of support base and the reality of the divorce. These have significant impact on our ability to think clearly, follow instructions, lead others and pay attention. We are no longer present in the moment with people. Instead we get bound-up by these feelings. Our minds and our bodies become severely impacted, and it is no surprise that our productivity will decrease.
On a personal level, people need to take time from work to respond to and meet with lawyers and other professionals who work during regular business hours. Home life is completely disrupted so simple tasks like getting ready for work and having clean clothes become challenging.
As a supervisor, manager or boss it is obviously up to you how to handle someone going through a divorce. As much as business involves personal factors, you also need to weigh the goals of the business. However, if you decide to give your full support to someone going through a divorce, here is what to consider:
Respect their wishes to keep things private from others if necessary.
Offer support as it relates to employment related tasks. It is best to avoid providing personal or direct divorce advice. Employees may feel uncomfortable talking about their situation or receiving advice from you. They may blur your personal advice as something related to work, feeling compelled they have to do it. That may not be in the best interest of your employee
Recommend therapists and other professionals if you wish by telling the employee that such a recommendation is not a judgment about them or their performance – but rather something done out of courtesy and as a way of providing support during this difficult time.
Give time off as necessary, and assume that the employee needs it. Do not question time off unless it becomes excessive. You may wish to allow time off just to deal with emotional stress, even if the employee going through divorce does not have a specific appointment to go to.
You do need to monitor the employee’s performance carefully and make skilled judgments about how to intervene. If you notice performance slipping, provide solutions and leadership for the employee. It is much more validating to hear a message like “I’ve noticed some issues, here is what I recommend” versus “I’ve noticed some issues…” The latter may only heighten a sense of anxiety.
Keep the employee in the loop about his performance, and let him know what is acceptable, what solutions you can provide, and what may not be acceptable performance. While talking about an unacceptable performance may not be very comfortable, it is better to intervene when problems are small. When they get larger, the stress on the employee becomes much more significant, and that is something to be avoided.
Brian Baumal is a psychotherapist working in Toronto, whose clients describe him as calm and reassuring. Brian has completed four years of Gestalt Psychotherapy and has been seeing a growing number of clients who are achieving the results they want. He can be reached at (416) 907-6085