Divorce … Does it Have to go to Work With You?
By: Dr. Helen Ofosu
Divorce … Does it Have to go to Work With You?
A marital or other significant split is essentially just that, it’s a split that cuts a painful line between you and your former partner, leaving you divided from the life you once knew and the one you haven’t yet discovered. The severing of a relationship is similar to an actual cut. Both include some pain and then the necessary time to heal properly.
A while back, I worked with a client who was in the midst of a messy divorce. The emotional toll of the split eventually spilled into her work life too. She described how even though her co-workers were still the same friendly, familiar faces who greeted her daily, she still felt alone, defensive, and anxious. The fragments of her personal life were now on display. Ultimately she quit her job stating, “I was unable to concentrate on work assignments … I felt like I was being talked about all the time and basically, I just wanted to disappear.” Sadly, not only was her marriage breaking up, but her professionalism was fractured as well.
The Potential Impact of Divorce on one’s Career
This situation is not uncommon. Divorce often negatively impacts people’s day-to-day functioning. Even under the best of circumstances, it can be a difficult and disruptive experience. Sometimes this adjustment can trigger unwanted, and unanticipated changes to one’s income, work hours/schedules, or even having to relocate a home or office. Then, when you add child custody issues into the mix … divorce can become a living nightmare. As a result, not only do you suffer from diminished work productivity, but the actual business/organization you work for will too.
Objectively, it’s a Serious Stressor
Divorcing from someone, and/or, reconfiguring your family structure is a deeply complex transition. Second, only to the death of a loved, divorce ranks as one of the most stressful experiences a person can go through (click here to read about working through grief and other difficult circumstances).
Like bereavement, separation, divorce, and similar breakups can impair a person’s performance at work, which in turn has a trickle-down effect for the organization. Absenteeism is a common consequence of divorce. This is usually due to prolonged court proceedings, issues with child care, or mental health problems. Just like my client had expressed about her work suffering in the aftermath of an acrimonious split, many people find the papers starting to pile up on their desk. They may also sense that others are discussing how their productivity is startlingly low, or that colleagues are resentful about their sudden lack of efficiency. This sudden (usually short-term) drop in work performance costs businesses money and aggravation because staff must compensate for the loss of an employee’s productivity.
Is There a Silver Lining?
However, although this outcome is unfortunate, there can be a silver lining. Sometimes after a marital breakup, people re-evaluate their career trajectory and make different decisions moving forward. I know it sounds like a patronizing affirmation poster, but in my experience with clients (and my own first-hand experience) divorce can open up new career opportunities. Of course, I don’t encourage anyone to give up on their job just because they’re going through a difficult change but it can be a good time to stop and think about the next direction to take in their life.
If you can relate to any of this and/or you are wondering how to keep chugging along at work while going through a divorce here are some tips.
Three simple things to try when surviving divorce in the workplace
- Don’t be afraid to seek some support in the office. It may be difficult to share your personal or work-related struggles with a boss or colleague, but it’s better to be upfront about the temporary challenges that are causing your increased absence or why your creativity or morale is lower than usual.
- Understand and accept that you are not alone and that you should not be ashamed of your personal situation. When we live long enough, some difficulties are bound to come our way. Interacting with supportive and trustworthy colleagues may help you feel less isolated. It’s wise to maintain appropriate boundaries and choose your confidants carefully.
- Consider getting professional help. Ideally, we can handle our problems the old fashioned way, by getting some good sleep, eating well, and exercising (all of which you should still do), but perhaps seeing a psychologist or counselor is a viable option. Having someone who is skilled at supporting people who are dealing with divorce and family issues can give you some extra peace of mind that will help you maintain your morale and productivity during this challenging time.
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