Relationship ‘breakup trauma’ causing SME brain drain: 1 in 7 employees leave the company
57% of UK employees felt they didn’t receive the required support from their employers, as divorce rates are expected to continue rising in 2021
Divorce has been found to create a period of ‘breakup trauma’ which is impacting companies across the UK — particularly small businesses. Data from a recent study found that 4 in every 5 UK employees who had been through divorce or relationship breakdown stated that it had an impact on their ability to work.
SME companies are particularly affected by a post-breakup ‘brain drain’ — 1 in 7 SME employees who had gone through a relationship breakdown was found to have left the company within the year. This is four times more likely than employees at large companies.
Similarly, SMEs in the UK are nearly three times more likely to let the employee go post-relationship breakdown — 2.3% of SME employees were let go within the year. The redundancy rate per number of employees in 2020 was 0.8%, according to ONS Labour Market Statistics.
The 2021 ‘Divorce in the Workplace’ study, conducted by specialist divorce lawyers Rayden Solicitors, asked employees from 133 UK companies who have been through a divorce or relationship separation how this impacted their ability to work, whether their workplace supported them sufficiently, and what more could be done to help others going through similar circumstances.
These results have far-reaching consequences — it’s not just about SMEs’ duty of care to their employees. SMEs are crucial to the long-term recovery of the UK economy, accounting for 99.9% of the business population (6 million businesses), according to the Federation of Small Businesses. In 2020, SMEs accounted for 60% of all private sector jobs in the UK (a total of 16.6 million), according to the UK Department for Business Energy & Industrial Strategy.
The findings showed that employees struggling through relationship separation felt the implications of their separation in their working lives:
57% of SME employees state that insufficient support post-relationship breakdown caused them anxiety, depression, or stress
Nearly one in three (30%) employees at small companies state their productivity suffered
16% had to take sick or unpaid leave post-relationship breakdown
How can SMEs better support employees going through divorce?
The data shows that employees going through a breakup at home affects smaller companies to a much greater extent than larger enterprises, but that SMEs simply cannot afford to have employees not working to their full capacity. Named ‘the backbone of the UK economy’ SMEs need the tools and support to succeed for accelerated growth — and this includes mental health training for staff.
Employees identified the following key areas for improvement in the workplace to ease the process of going through a divorce:
More support for mental wellbeing — 42% stated that their company could have provided more psychological and mental health support.
Greater potential for flexible working — 3% wanted more leeway on flexible working to attend separation proceedings and meetings.
Offer compassionate leave — 32% felt that an offer of compassionate leave would have better supported them.
Provide recommendations for external support — 27% wanted more simple recommendations for support organisations or separation counselling.
More privacy on the matter — 6% felt there was too much gossip from colleagues, and wanted better protection from HR to keep privacy.
Wider workplace culture improvements — 11% (1 in 9) UK employees stated that work pressure hindered the relationship and contributed to the divorce.
Commenting on the findings, Senior Partner at Rayden Solicitors Katherine Rayden, says:
“We might think of divorce as a very private and personal issue, but the truth is that going through a divorce is something that weighs down on every aspect of that person’s life. For those divorcing who might spend the majority of their daily lives in a job role, work life is no exception to this. Divorce will often be an emotional process, and it’s clear from this data that individuals’ work lives are negatively impacted by the emotional strain of divorce. It seems that there is more that could be done by SME workplaces to minimise the ripple effect of a divorce.
SMEs need to be sensitive to the fact that divorce can affect their staff beyond their personal lives. Providing the appropriate support will put employees in a better position to cope with their divorce. It’s in the best interest of both the business and its people for SME employers to meet this need.”
Lina Mookerjee, senior accredited member of BACP, a consultant counsellor, psychotherapist and mindfulness facilitator, says:
“When facing a major life change through relationship breakdown, separation or divorce, this can create significant psychological stress. The stress response is designed for short periods but when experienced for six months and longer, it becomes known as chronic stress. The prolonged release of adrenaline and cortisol adversely impacts physical and psychological functioning, including the capacity to recover after illness and be resilient.
“Physically, there’s a greater propensity to feel rundown, tired, develop digestive issues, aches, pains and skin problems and generally feeling unwell. Psychologically, the capacity to focus, stay present and process information can become difficult.
“Coping mechanisms become relied on, including the overuse of caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. As these are stressors, they help to perpetuate the relentless hamster wheel effect. It’s important SMEs recognise these emotional consequences and demonstrate their responsibility for vital care and nurture. Stress is not a sign of weakness but a sign of being human in need of support to regain their balance and equilibrium.”
Kirsten Keen, HR expert at Cluer HR, says:
“With most relationship breakdowns comes a huge amount of stress, hurt and heartbreak and from that breeds lack of concentration, low mood and even depression. All this is inevitably going to impact on a person’s ability to perform well in their role.
If that person is a valued, respected member of the business, it surely goes without saying that it’s therefore in the business’s interest to support that person through their difficult time – continuing to get the best from them and ultimately, retaining talent.
It can be as simple as being flexible – allowing employees to attend solicitor meetings and court hearings in work time, for example. Offering counselling services to staff – not just for issues that relate directly to work, but for personal issues, such as relationship breakdowns. Nurturing a culture whereby people talk about their homelife and are open about problems can also be helpful.
Yes, you might lose a bit of time by allowing them to attend solicitor appointments, for example, but if that helps to make them feel less stressed and get their life sorted, SMEs will benefit in the long-run too – retaining an employee who can concentrate on their work, be more productive and who feels valued and understood!”