Dealing with divorce in the workplace depends on a lot of different variables. In a program I presented to the Kansas City Chapter of the American Business Women’s Association, I explained that the answer to how to handle divorce at work depends on if you are dealing with divorce:
- As an employee (When divorce happens to you)
- As an employer (When divorce happens to someone who works for you)
- As a co-worker (When divorce happens to someone you work with)
Divorce & Work Performance
When I was faced with divorce, I was a sole proprietor of a Marketing and Advertising business. My personal and professional life were humming along. Then suddenly, after 30 years of marriage my then-husband decided he wanted someone else. All of my pleading and praying, sobbing and screaming over the next three years didn’t change his mind, and we were divorced one day before my parent’s 58th wedding anniversary.
I was in shock! I was devastated at all the losses. I was broken-hearted, furious, worried, afraid and every other disruptive emotion you can think of! My work performance during divorce suffered. I wasn’t sleeping well. I felt sick to my stomach almost every single day. It was hard to concentrate. All of that meant that I was distracted, inefficient and off-target on daily business goals. Early on I was trying to keep myself from falling apart completely on most days.
If you’re in the workplace and going through divorce yourself, I’m sure you can identify with all that. Some days I could barely get my feet on the floor and to my desk every day. Being a small business owner, I asked myself, “Can you take time off work for divorce?” The answer was “NO!” In fact, I needed to up my business game because of financial worries.
On the other hand, sometimes getting a divorce while you are an employee forces you to pull yourself together and at least function during those hours that you are at work. You have to get up every morning, even though you don’t want to. You have to do your job even though you’re exhausted and distracted. You have to somehow put your personal emotions in a box under the desk during work hours. Difficult but doable with some practice.
Going Through Divorce as an Employee:
Take care of YOU!!
Just the physical part of getting divorced is overwhelming and exhausting and you are making huge decisions that affect your family and your future. The whole process is incredibly stressful. You have to focus on the life basics like we encourage in the Survival part of our MasterPlan Program and Community.
Get some supports in place outside of the work environment.
Be kind to yourself and get help! Midlife Divorce Recovery can be that help you need. We provide encouragement in your inbox and simple concrete actions you can take to make things easier at work and at home. And we connect you with other women who are also on this road. You might not want to talk to co-workers about your divorce, but you do need to talk to someone. We give you a safe protected online place that makes connecting with others easy and private. That helps you feel less lonely and isolated.
Realize that some days will be worse than others.
Give yourself grace. Understand that although you WILL get through this, the early days of divorce can be agonizing and unpredictable. You might be in the middle of a workday and then find yourself sobbing in the breakroom. Divorce emotions can show up when you least expect them. That’s normal.
Set your own personal boundaries
Decide what you want to share about your divorce with your co-workers. Share only what you feel comfortable sharing. Write out a game plan beforehand on how to talk about your divorce. You have an opportunity to make a positive impact on your whole team at work or to be a disruptor of the productivity of your company.
Dealing with the Divorce of one of your Employees
1. Talk with the employee directly
- Tell your employee what you have heard or why you think something is wrong
- Ask if the employee wants to talk. Don’t pry.
- Ask how you can help.
2. Be flexible when your employee has a meeting with attorneys or has to take personal days off because of the divorce. Do not share personal information about your employee’s situation with anyone else at work. Be patient and understanding.
3. Foster a team spirit in your office before you need it. Encourage team building in the workplace. Getting to know each other and depend on each other is good for most offices and other workplaces. Respect and boundaries are good, too.
Do I Have To Tell My Employer I Got Divorced?
You will need to talk with your attorney about the legal responsibilities you have about telling your employer you got divorced. If you are employed by a company with a Human Resources department, check with them first. You might also ask your attorney.
I advise most people to tell their boss, manager or supervisor if you are going through divorce. A friend of mine told her boss about the divorce, and he was an amazing help in her ability to deal with her divorce while still performing well at work. He was understanding if she needed a couple of hours to meet with her attorney or to go to court. He was understanding if she needed a personal day off. He still expected her to get the work done, but gave her flexibility when possible.
Can Your Employer Fire You For Getting Divorced?
Long ago, women could get fired for being pregnant. Thankfully, those days are gone unless pregnancy made it impossible for you to do your work. If your divorce is preventing you from doing your work for a long period of time, you can also be “let go.” Some religious institutions may have rules about employment and being divorced. Again, check with your attorney or the human resources department of your place of business to find out exactly what your contract says about divorce and circumstances that can cause you to lose your job.
Divorce & Work Benefits
Of course, after divorce many women change their name and almost all have to move. Be sure to update your personal information. Also, talk to your attorney about your workplace benefits as it relates to insurance, retirement and other financial considerations that might change after divorce.
Health insurance is a huge part of most company benefit plans. You need to evaluate how divorce will affect your benefits and retirement. Talk to your attorney and financial advisor about how your divorce is going to affect your bottom line.
Can You Take Time Off Work For Divorce?
The friend I mentioned above who told her boss about the divorce said he did a couple of things that made her life much easier. The boss was flexible. As you know, divorce means days where you have to see your attorney or appear in court. Or days where you are unable to function very well emotionally. As a boss, assure your employee that you will do whatever you can to allow time for necessary meetings and occasional time off if you can make up for it and not affect team efficiency. At the same time, you don’t want other employees to have to take up the slack too often.
My Boss Is Getting Divorced
The situation can be touchy if your boss is getting divorced. Let your boss bring it up! In my opinion, if you have been through divorce, you might share with your boss that you have been down that road, and be willing to share resources that were helpful, if asked.
The best thing you can do for a boss going through divorce is to continue to stay healthy and continue to do your best at work. Being productive and efficient with your work obligations is the best way to help your boss.
A Co-Worker is Getting Divorced
What would be more likely to happen at work is that a Coworker is getting divorced.
Here are some basic rules to follow:
- Wait for your co-worker to bring up the divorce
- Offer help on their terms. Ask what they need.
- Respect their boundaries
Let them tell the rest of the office if they want to … NOT YOU!
When, where and how is up to them.
Support them outside of the workplace:
- Send a card
- Get together before or after work
- Encourage getting help – Suggest Midlife Divorce Recovery or other resources.
- Words of Caution!
Since many affairs start in the workplace, be aware of the dangers of getting involved emotionally with anyone at work who is going through divorce — a fellow employee, your boss or an employee if you are the boss. People going through divorce are emotionally needy and many office affairs start with one employee being dissatisfied with their marriage (or going through a divorce) and confiding too much in a co-worker or in their boss.
You can be available to give support and encouragement to someone at work going through divorce, but do not give overly emotional support or especially romantic support. Do not give legal or psychological advice. Leave that to the experts.
Most of the time, just letting your co-worker or boss know that you are going to keep doing your job the best you can and that you will be there to listen if that’s needed. But, again, keep your emotions in check and don’t get into any emotionally compromising situations when trying to comfort or be there for a co-worker going through any kind of personal struggles.
Remind coworkers going through divorce that taking care of themselves is the best for them and for everyone at work! Passing along resources like our Midlife Divorce Recovery articles is sometimes the best way to help them.