By Andrew L. Yarrow
You’ve got a deadline at work, your boss is calling, and there are five more hours until you go home, but all you can think about is your divorce filing, what the courts may do, and your soon-to-be ex-spouse.
The effects of divorce on work performance are hard to truly measure. Employees going through divorce are often late. At work, anxiety, anger, loneliness, and fatigue can cloud their judgment and cause productivity to plummet. This is likely true even if your divorce is relatively amicable.
Bosses, co-workers, and human-resources people may be sympathetic and supportive; they may be oblivious to what you’re going through; or they may be annoyed and question your ability to do your job.
If you’re getting divorced, balancing your job, your divorce, your children, and the rest of your life can seem like juggling four balls while walking a tightrope.
Effects of divorce on work performance
The effects of divorce on work performance can put your career advancement or even your very job at risk. Unprofessional reactions can turn you from being a star employee to being put on probation, demoted, or even fired.
A curt response to your supervisor, a raised voice with those you work with, loud phone calls with the spouse you’re divorcing, being unresponsive to a client or business partner, or one too many days when you’re late or are away for hours dealing with the practicalities of divorce can be detrimental to your professional success. One British study found that 9 percent of employees had to leave their jobs because of a divorce or separation or knew a co-worker who had done so.
Despite a 2016 New Jersey court ruling that getting divorced is not grounds for being fired, employers certainly can find other reasons to send you packing if your performance or behavior are deemed to be poor or erratic. You also may be so stressed that you resign in a huff. Or you may believe that quitting is a way to reduce alimony payments. Not a good idea. Even if you were planning to leave your job, wait until well after your divorce is over.
If the divorce-work nexus weren’t such a personal crisis, it would probably be considered a national economic emergency.
Human resource professionals and business schools have done studies and crunched the numbers. According to one estimate, employee productivity goes down by 40 percent during the year and a half just before and after your divorce, and it remains lower than usual for several years after.
The effects of divorce in the workplace also impacts the company bottom line. According to a Minneapolis-based Life Innovations study, stress from relationship-related issues costs companies $300 billion a year. The same study found that a recently divorced worker may lose more than four weeks of work in a year.
You may be patriotic and care about your country, but the macroeconomic effects of divorce are probably not uppermost in your mind when you’re working and getting a divorce.
How to deal with divorce at work
So, what should you expect of your employer, and what should you do?
Ideally, your boss and HR department will be understanding and give you a break. A good supervisor will listen, be compassionate, and not give (often poor) advice unrelated to work.
In a sense, getting a divorce is like coming down with the flu; you shouldn’t be blamed for taking time off or temporarily being less productive. Remember: It’s unlikely that neither your boss nor other workers who report to him or her have never gone through a divorce. And remember: Unless you do something stupid, it is discriminatory and illegal for an employer to fire you just because you’re getting divorced.
That said, there are some steps you can take to help minimize work-related stress while you are going through divorce.
Here are 10 tips for how to deal with divorce at work:
- You should tell your supervisor that you are going through a divorce and will have to be out of the office more than usual, but that you will get your work done.
- Only tell your close workplace friends that you are divorcing. You don’t want the whole office to be gossiping or making snide remarks.
- Get more involved in group projects so that you’re not working alone and ruminating about your life.
- Don’t read divorce-related emails while at work, and don’t talk on the phone about your divorce during the work day, unless it’s absolutely necessary to speak with your attorney.
- Do not get into a phone fight with your spouse. It will rile you up and probably be overheard by those working nearby.
- Try to keep in control: Don’t mouth off or turn into a raging bull. Aside from the workplace consequences, this could turn into ammunition for your spouse.
- If there’s ever a time to find a good therapist, this is it.
- Don’t quit: As the old saying goes, “Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.”
- If you feel too much pressure, take a walk and get some fresh air.
- If you’re interviewing for a job, do not bring up your divorce.
It may be hard at times, but try to follow this playbook. It’s best for you, your job, and your divorce – not to mention for your employer and fellow workers.