Talking Point: Do you know how best to help an employee through divorce?

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28th Nov 2012
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Unlike death, people experience divorce as a failure. 

But the level of compassion and understanding given to someone who is going through the process isn’t always as apparent as it is for someone who is in mourning.   Nonetheless, divorce is one of those ‘crises’ that can completely knock an employee down. Colleagues may try to make things better by employing some old clichés, but, in reality, it is impossible to fix matters of the heart with intellectualisations of the mind and such statements do not encourage healing. Common phrases include:  

  • “Thank goodness that it happened before you had children.”
  • “God will never give you more than you can handle.”
  • “You’ll find someone else.”
  • “There’s someone special out there for you.”
  • “It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
  • “Be grateful that you were once married and knew love.”
  • “You’re free now to relive your teenage dreams of being single.”

  Divorce or a really bad break-up can be experienced as a trauma regardless of how much notice has been given. If we consider the things that help us to feel secure in life, our jobs/homes/relationships/family and health are core foundations.   Going through a divorce or break up, for whatever reason, can come as a shock, however – even if the individual concerned knew that it was coming. It’s a massive life change and most human beings don’t handle such change very well. So here are some tips and advice for HR professionals to help support staff through the worst of it:   During the first few weeks, it’s critical for soon-to-be-divorced people to simply feel their emotions. Emotions, when fully experienced, will naturally follow a path towards healing, but all too often, it’s the people doing the supporting of others who unwittingly interrupt this healing pattern.   Tip 1: As an HR person, it's important to encourage the individual concerned to feel their emotions. Recommend that they take a few days off to deal with whatever is going on.   Tip 2: If the employee don’t have a lawyer yet and has no idea where to start, divorce specialist, Suzy Miller, offers a ‘Divorce-in-a-Box’, which provides information on all of the available legal options for £40.    Tip 3: Point the staff member concerned to information sources on how to deal with divorce while at work. You could start with one of mine here.    Here are also a few dos and don’ts:   Don’ts  

  • Don’t give pep talks. While people will need to express their emotions, it’s not your job to pump them up and ensure that they are happy again
  • Don’t drown people in platitudes – telling them to ‘look on the bright side of life’ or that ‘everything happens for a reason’ just trivialises their deep unhappiness. So allow THEM to come to this conclusion in their own time –and they will own it on a deeper level
  • Don’t tell them to snap out of it or that they are being ridiculous, self-indulgent or dramatic.

  Dos 

  • Show compassion. Allow people their feelings and acknowledge that they need to process things in their own way
  • Validate their right to their emotions, but also encourage them to stop and actually feel them – most people want to indulge in short-term emotion avoidance tactics such as decorating, shopping, partying or being super ‘busy’ with something or other in a bid to avoid dealing with how they feel. But if they continue this for too long, they may end up depressed as a result of repressing their emotions
  • Reassure them that everything will be OK
  • Show them the divorce emotional cycle (see below) and reassure them that there will be an end to the journey.

 

    But the most important thing of all is to simply listen and be there for them. Sometimes people literally have no support structures in their lives and you might be the only person to whom they feel that they can turn. At such times, it might just be important to remember why you got into HR in the first place... 

Adele Theron is an author, coach, change and divorce specialist.

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