Going through a separation is one of the hardest things I’ve had to go through in my life. Trying to keep on top of my job whilst navigating such a distressing life event was extremely challenging. Therefore, I was heartened to hear about Positive Parenting Alliance HR Initiative. It’s a new campaign encouraging organisations to put into place HR processes to support parents during separation and divorce.
An overload of stress
When I think back to 2017 when I was preparing for divorce and child arrangement court proceedings, my ability to concentrate was a mess. I could barely concentrate on a TV show, let alone my work. When your anxiety is high, and your ’perceived threat‘ level is turned up to the max. Your brain is on high-alert mode and it is near impossible to settle on work or other aspects of life. Your brain just wants to ruminate and respond to the perceived threats of the current crisis.
One aspect that I think really helped, was to be open and honest with work colleagues about my situation fairly early on. My colleagues responded really positively and encouraged me to take time for myself. They also allowed me to delegate work to others, and take personal time to deal with legal appointments etc. I suspect colleagues spoke to each other to arrange a support network who would check in, take me for a drink or a catch up regularly. I also handed my line management responsibilities to a colleague.
My world had caved in
When I subsequently didn’t get the outcome from the court proceedings that I was seeking later that year, my employer granted me long term sick leave. This gave me time to get myself together and at least start the process of rebuilding my mental health.
In honesty, at this time work just did not matter to me. My world had caved in, and I needed the space from work. I would probably have been at risk of acting unprofessionally anyway as listening to ’corporate issues‘ just didn’t seem important. Seen through this lens, it’s not just a kindness but a necessity for workplaces to give staff time to deal with personal turmoil. Without doing so they risk quality/professionalism deteriorating despite no lack of good intentions from all sides.
Hope for future support at work
The Positive Parenting Alliance HR Initiative calls for HR leaders to better support employees going through separation. This includes recognising separation as a ‘life event’ in HR policy. It also ensures parents have access to flexible working to manage school/childcare pick-ups and drop offs. Furthermore, it calls upon organisations to provide employees signposting to emotional counselling during this period. Many major UK employers have already signed up to the initiative.
I can’t emphasise enough how important these measures are. Rather like the no-fault divorce movement, I believe that taking pressure off families going through significant turmoil can only be a positive step. Separation is difficult as it affects your emotions, and your most important relationships in the world. It also alters your home (the place you’re meant to feel most comfortable), your finances and your mental health.
The benefits of a supportive employer
My personal experience was traumatic, and that was despite the fact that my employer and colleagues were wonderful and probably ahead of their time in terms of how they dealt with supporting me through my separation.
I suspect I was lucky. I’d been in my job for 10 years, had built up goodwill from my co-workers, was working on a project that was not too challenging for me at the time. I also had genuine friendships at work which I could lean on for support. I don’t know how I would have coped if my employer had not been as supportive and understanding of the situation I was going through.
Everyone’s experience will be different, but I think it’s fair to say that it’s beneficial for all parties for firms to put in place policies to support staff through difficult life events. For the employer, it makes them an attractive place to work while ensuring they safeguard against having staff at work who are a risk to their professionalism. For the employee, it provides a safety net that should the worst happen they will have space to put the building blocks for their new lives in place and start to deal with the mental and financial burden of what has happened.