Coping With Divorce: Help Maintain Your Employees' Workplace Productivity During A Personal Crisis

Ending a marriage is a traumatic and painful experience for the people involved. Divorce impacts emotional, mental and physical health in many ways. It takes time and costs money and, if there are children involved, the stress is even worse. All these factors can have a hugely detrimental effect on employee productivity.

According to the latest statistics available from Stats SA, 186 522 marriages were registered in South Africa in 2008. The data on divorces indicates that the number of granted cases has been fluctuating between 37 098 and 28 924 per year between 1999 and 2008. The average age at divorce in 2008 was 41 for men and 38 for women. Although many people did not indicate the type of occupation they were engaged in at the time of divorce, the highest percentage of wives (19,8%) were in clerical and sales occupations while husbands (14,9%) were in managerial and administrative occupations.

There were 26 947 children involved in divorce. 

"The odds of someone in the workplace going through the experience of divorce are fairly high, which is why employers are advised to have a plan in place to help maintain employees' workplace productivity during this personal crisis," says Liza Segal, co-founder of Ad Idem, a family and divorce settlement mediation company.

The ramifications of divorce

Divorce leaves people unable to focus, depressed, and worried about the future. Added to the emotional anxiety are the logistical and practical requirements which impede productivity. "Suddenly, the spouse may find that there is no-one to look after the children anymore, no-one to pick them up from school, and no-one who will take them to the doctor when they are ill.

They may also have to spend an inordinate amount of time gathering the documentation required by the lawyers and the courts," notes Deanne Kahn, Segal's business partner.

"Not only do they have to spend more time away from work, but they also have little ability to concentrate when they are on the job. The effects on physical health are well documented. An asthmatic person going through a divorce will suffer more frequent attacks; someone prone to migraines will be ill every few days."

Then there are the financial stresses: the spouse may be left without a car, or forced to find a new place to live. In these circumstances, the salary which may have been just enough will be insufficient, which can cause resentment about the job and the employer.

"It's a spiral of negative ramifications," Segal adds. "That's why the best way to deal with divorce is as quickly and effectively as possible. The longer the process is protracted, the worse the effects on those involved and the people around them."

One employee benefit that can mitigate the effect divorce has on productivity is access to mediators, which allows employers to offer mediation and valuable conflict resolution services to their employees at a minimal cost. Unfortunately, this benefit is seldom provided by employers.

"Given the high rate of divorce in the country, employers should introduce divorce settlement mediation services into employee assistance programmes as a matter of course," Kahn stresses. "You simply cannot afford to ignore an event which adversely affects the wellbeing of a staff member. Divorce mediation services indicate that the employer is behaving responsibly regarding occupational health."

How it works

Divorce settlement mediation is a way for couples to work out the terms of their divorce, saving both parties significant time and money. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, those who choose mediation tend to experience far less stress during the process, translating to less of an impact on productivity.

"It's the process of dissolving a marriage in a legally sound but non-litigious manner," says Kahn. "Instead of appointing two separate attorneys to litigate the divorce, both spouses consult with a family law practitioner. The mediator helps them to reach a mutually acceptable resolution, in their own best interests and those of their family. The mediator, an expert in child and family law, provides guidance for the couple on the anticipated range of likely court outcomes."

The benefits to all are enormous. If a divorce is litigated, the outcome is decided by a judge. If it's mediated, the conclusion is determined by the two spouses, both of whom have a financial and emotional interest in the ultimate success of the process. With the help of a mediator, the two will work together to design an agreement that makes the most sense for them.

This is the quickest route to follow, but it is also the most cost-effective and can save both parties the thousands of rand which go towards the typically ruthless process of litigation.

"The advantages for employees are indisputable, but the gains for business are just as great," Segal points out. "By providing access to settlement mediation, the employer effectively boosts the organisation's productivity levels by ensuring that employees who are going through the end of a marriage are able to close the door on an unhappy episode and move on with their lives with as little disruption as possible.

Cher Heystek, Ad Idem, 011 268 2095,
Usman Aly, Predictive Communications, 011 452 2923,


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