Some of the UK's largest businesses have committed to a new initiative to support staff who are going through separation, as a new survey reveals the major impact a family breakdown can have on an employee's performance.
Major UK employers, including Asda, Metro Bank, NatWest, PwC, Tesco, Unilever and Vodafone, who have a collective UK workforce of almost 600,000, have welcomed working with the Positive Parenting Alliance (PPA) to incorporate more family-friendly HR policies for staff going through a divorce or separation in the family home, such as recognising separation as a 'life event' and signposting details of available support.
The move comes after a survey from the PPA, a group of UK organisations and individuals whose aim is to create a more compassionate culture and better systems in the UK to ensure the long-term wellbeing of children when parents separate, found that 90% of respondents said that their work performance was impacted when they went through a divorce, and 95% reported that their mental health at work suffered.
This is the PPA’s second major initiative to help change the culture of separation in the UK after launching the ‘Parents Promise’ in May 2021.
More than 74% of employees surveyed admitted that they were less efficient at work and over 39% felt they had to take time off work as a result of their separation. Over 11% stopped work altogether.
The survey of more than 200 employees across a range of businesses also showed:
52% said that as a result of their separation they felt they might lose their job or thought about voluntarily leaving.
Just nine percent said their employer had specific policies or support for employees going through separation or divorce.
Divorce affects people at work just as much as it does at home
Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Court Division, said: “The Australian Family Court promotes the slogan ‘You can separate smarter’. Encouraging UK parents to ‘separate smarter’ is what the Parents Promise is all about and I am 100% behind the Positive Parenting Alliance in doing so.
“The immediate emotional impact of relationship breakdown is all consuming. It hits a parent at work just as at any other time. The Positive Parenting Alliance calls for employers to recognise this impact, and to do what they can to support their employee, offers a ‘win/win’ outcome; good for employers and employees alike. Wise and insightful employers will, I hope, not need to think twice before responding positively to this call.”
James Hayhurst, founder of the Positive Parenting Alliance, said: “We want to change the culture of separation in the UK, and employers can play a critical first step in offering support, signposting and role-modelling how separation can be handled in a more positive way for the benefit of all parties involved.”
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"Currently few employers recognise or accommodate for employees going through a divorce or separation, even though it affects large numbers annually, and is a huge strain on an individual's mental health. Often, children are involved and impacted negatively by a family breakdown, and yet divorce is not formally incorporated into HR policies.
"The survey findings are a wake-up call for UK businesses which is why the fact that some of the country's biggest employers have agreed to make the positive commitment to improving their HR policies is such a major step in employee benefits and wellbeing.”
Behavioural Economist Rory Sutherland said: “In terms of effecting large-scale cultural change in how the UK supports family separation, it makes sense for employers, large and small, to embrace this initiative. There is a big difference between decisions made in a hot state compared to those made with more composure, and hence the moment and mindset in which such separations are decided could make all the difference to whether an employee is able to cope, and to remain in their role or not.”
Campaign marches on Parliament
To raise awareness of the issue, the Positive Parenting Alliance will launch a campaign in Parliament on 26 January 2023. Joined by Siobhan Baillie MP and Sir Andrew McFarlane, it is calling on other businesses and HR leaders to better support employees going through separation by implementing a number of HR initiatives, including:
Recognising separation as a ‘life event’ in HR policy so that those experiencing separation feel recognised and realise that they can access support.
Ensuring parents going through a separation have access to flexible working to enable them to manage school and childcare pick-ups and drop-offs whilst they reconfigure their family setups.
Giving employees access to, and pointing them towards, emotional counselling during this period.
Signposting and access to separation support services so that parents can have the guidance and support that they need to separate in the most compassionate and child-focused way.
What firms had to say about the initiative
Businesses signing up to this new initiative will be provided with guidance and signposting support from the PPA for their employees. And some of those involved have had their say on the initiative.
Carol Frost, Chief People Officer at Metro Bank, said: “At Metro Bank we are always looking for new and innovative ways to support our colleagues. Family separation is more common in today’s society and it is only right that our policies recognise the huge impact that this can have on individuals. We are working on implementing the initiatives recommended by the Positive Parenting Alliance to enable us to be fully equipped to support colleagues experiencing this huge life event.”
James Goodman, People Director for Tesco UK & ROI, added: “At Tesco we recognise the impact that separation and divorce can have on our colleagues. We are proud to support the Positive Parenting Alliance to make this experience a little more manageable for colleagues by signposting helpful resources for them and encouraging managers to be as accommodating as they can be, to support colleagues during such times.”
And finally, Hazel Fenton, Parent and Carers at Tesco network chair, commented: “It’s great to see the business supporting colleagues through challenging personal circumstances by helping direct them to some brilliant resources. We look forward to continuing to work alongside the Positive Parenting Alliance, and will be working to showcase the range of policies and support out there for colleagues throughout 2023.”