Should I tell my employer I’m getting divorced?
Last week someone asked a juicy question in my Facebook Group. In Ladies Who Leave: someone asked Should I tell my employer I’m getting divorced?
It’s juicy because it’s a dilemma faced by many people, and there is no simple answer for when or how to do this.
UK work culture is still dominated by a ‘stiff upper lip’ approach – where the done thing is to keep your personal and professional life separate. Yet this is changing, with many organisations recognising that we are whole people, not robots. In this post, Should I tell my employer I’m getting divorced? we explore, whether, when and how to discuss your divorce with your boss.
It’s not just you
Before we get stuck in a reminder. If you are feeling overwhelmed, or below par at work because of your divorce you are not alone. With 42% of marriages ending in divorce, and a cost to the UK economy of £46 Billion in absenteeism, resignations, lost productivity and increased sick leave for mental health issues, divorce impacts all levels of the UK workforce. A recent study found 69% of high earners reported ‘significant ‘ problems in their relationships.
You are not alone, whether you are working on the minimum wage or earning £100,000 pa. So however isolated you feel, remember that this is something others are experiencing, and it’s a valid reason for feeling low.
Should I tell my employer I’m getting divorced?
The short answer is yes – usually, it is a good idea. Being honest with your employer builds trust, especially if you ‘haven’t been yourself’ recently. Consider where you are at professionally right now. How are things at work? Has the state of your marriage contributed to a drop in performance? Have you considered the link between your professional competence and how things are in your personal life?
If you have been experiencing long-term emotional or physical abuse, it’s possible you’ve become a master at hiding it from others and yourself. This may mean that you’re not even aware of the impact that the state of your relationship is having on your professional performance.
What to say to your employer
Now we know the answer to Should I tell my employer I’m getting divorced? is usually yes, stick to the facts. Your employer is not the best place to turn for extended emotional advice. But they do need to be kept in the loop so they can support you. This is an issue where you can show your CEO qualities (see my blog on How to be CEO of Your Divorce if you’ve not seen it yet) – you can set the tone and take charge of how what you need to minimise the impact of your divorce on your work.
Tell them in brief what’s going on and what you need (see below for more on this). Explain what you are doing to maintain your mental health and wellbeing, and that you recognise the circumstances in your personal life may impact on your job. Tell them about the appointments you have and time you may need to attend and prepare for them.
Be calm and measured but not a robot. Most employers (I hope) will realise that humans have human problems and this is part of life. Be real. Be you, without feeling shame or guilt. If you need a couple of days off, take them. Ask about any support available – there might be counselling or other therapeutic services you can access. Show your employer that you are handling the situation proactively and not becoming a victim to it.
Less is often more
Your employer doesn’t need to know all the gory details. Your friends are the place for letting rip and venting. Calls with your therapist or divorce coach are where to process feelings and consider options. Your employer needs to know about your divorce only in relation to your work – the fact you are getting divorced is likely to involve time away from your work for appointments, and is likely to mean you’re not always as ‘on it’ as you are in calmer times.
So stick to what’s needed. If you have changed your address or bank account, let them know. Check your employment contract for any other obligations you may have regarding your change of circumstances.
When to tell your employer?
It’s not just what you tell your employer, it’s how you tell them. Ideally, telling your boss should be part of your divorce plan. It’s helpful to approach them before they come to you. This shows strength. It allows you to remain in control of what you say and when.
Before you tell your boss, is there a trusted work colleague you can share with so you can ease your nerves and feel less isolated? Is there someone in the company who has been through divorce and told your boss? What happened?
Have you thought through what you want to say and what you want to get from the conversation? They will appreciate you coming to them with the necessary details of how your divorce is likely to affect your divorce – whether that’s dates you need to be away from work, or simply letting them know you’re feeling (understandably) more vulnerable than usual and you may need some flexibility.
Preparing yourself and doing your research will help you feel more confident so you are more likely to get what you need.
Remember that divorce is a long process
Divorce is a marathon, not a sprint. There may be days when you need time for appointments with lawyers or the court. Even in a post-Covid world these appointments will likely be online but you’ll still require a private space at home or work.
Your emotions will rollercoaster too. Remember that it’s unlikely you will get through your divorce without your boss finding out – so if you can, be upfront and honest. Your employer can only support you if they know what’s really going on. And it’s much better they hear about it from you than via the office grapevine.
Think about the demands of your job. Some careers require enhanced skills of concentration and care. Would you want your air traffic controller to be distracted by the latest development in her divorce? Would you be happy for your brain surgeon to be upset because her ex’s lawyer sent a nasty letter? No! So be honest about the impact your divorce is having on you, and if needed, request adjustments. Can you do a different role if you are struggling for time and emotional stability for a while?
Ask for what you need
Perhaps you’re worried that your boss will use this against you and think that you are ‘weak’? That, unfortunately, maybe the case with some employers so take a moment to research before you ask. If you think it likely your direct manager will be unsupportive, consider what rights you have. Think about:
- If you have a HR Department or someone responsible for pastoral care, and whether you can discuss options with them
- Are there relevant policies available on your employer’s intranet, or elsewhere, detailing what time off or other support you are entitled to?
- Are you a member of a union? Can your union rep support you if you need to make a case for flexibility at work?
- Can you access support and counselling through your employer? You may find that you are actively encouraged to engage in any therapy offered, as employers know unhappy staff are less productive
- If other avenues fail and your employer is unsupportive, an employment lawyer may be able to help.
Use what support is offered
Take any support that is offered, and hold firm on what you need. You don’t get points for being a martyr – much as women have been conditioned to think that we need to be ‘good’ and not cause trouble. In fact, an awareness that you need support shows high emotional intelligence. It shows you know yourself and what you need. It shows that you know when to pull back and when to push on – this means your employer is more likely to trust your judgement. Denial that there is anything wrong can backfire spectacularly!
Look after yourself
Make self-care a priority. This is true whether you have paid work or you are a stay-at-home-parent. But your workplace shouldn’t be the main place you deal with divorce-related feelings and logistics.
Use a divorce coach or therapist so you can keep divorce-related matters out of the workplace as much as possible. Just as you don’t want to become ‘a divorce bore’ with your friends, your work colleagues and boss need you to be your professional self – albeit with some adjustments when things are difficult. Ensure you get the support you need outside of work so it doesn’t become the place to process everything.
Does that mean you should never talk about your personal life at work? No! Follow the culture that already exists in your place of work. If talking about your private life is encouraged, talk but be mindful of what you share and how you share it.
And bear in mind how well you are treated. It’s probably unwise to add ‘look for a new job’ to the to-do list when you are going through a divorce, but your treatment at work might flag that your time, talents and energy might be better spent elsewhere in the future if you don’t feel valued. Equally, they might show you how fantastic your employer is.
Using professional support
One of the best investments of your time and money is a divorce coach. It gives you time and space to vent, reflect and share whatever you need to about your situation in a safe and boundaried space. It means you can consider and make decisions with a supportive professional who’s got your back. Which in turn enables you to get on with the rest of your life on a more even keel.
If you’d like to chat about how I can help you, you can book a call with me here.
Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is author of the Amazon best selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self-study and group programmes. Emma has been featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com