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Liat Sadler

Business and Government Need to Get Proactive About Supporting Workers Through Divorce

Posted on November 25, 2012

At the risk of stating the obvious, family conflicts have a tangible negative impact on business. The less obvious point is the following: any employer that doesn’t have a strategy to support workers in constructively dealing with family conflict shoots itself in the foot.

Marital stress can be the impetus of a whole host of problems in the worker that in turn lead to problems for employers, including immune system impairment, additions, mental health problems, and domestic violence. Workers facing marital or relationship strife are absent from work at an increased rate. A correlation has been found between job satisfaction and marital stress. Burnout on the job can be caused by the job itself, no doubt. However, it can also be caused strife at home. As Rebecca Love Kourlis explains in her Family Court Review article, “emotional and personal problems are associated with increased absences, tardiness, on-the-job injuries, property damage, medical claims, and employee turnover.” According to HR Magazine, divorcing employees make more mistakes, work more slowly, and project anger more easily onto colleagues and customers than their non-divorcing counterparts.

Given the very tangible negative impact that family strife has on worker productivity, the business community and federal and state governments can put some processes in place to assist workers through their hard times at home. 87% of employers with 1,000 or more employees offer some version of employee assistance programs (EAPs), which may include prepaid legal services. EAPs are generally integrated into an employer’s wellness programs. Because services offered by EAPs include education and counseling for employees, EAPs can be extremely useful for prevention of explosive marital strife.

However, there are major problems in the availability and comprehensiveness of EAPs. Only 51% of employers with under 1,000 workers have employee assistance programs in place. In addition, the majority of EAPs do not offer prepaid legal services for contested divorces and child custody disputes. These are exactly the kind of problems where employees need assistance the most. The return on investment for EAPs, even in their current limited form is three dollars for every dollar invested, according to a study by Mark Attridge in the Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health. According to Federal Occupational Health, which provides EAP services for federal and military workers, time away from work by employees utilizing EAP services fell by nearly two-thirds. 66% of workers showed marked improvements in mental health; 83% showed marked improvements in attendance; and 73% showed marked improvement in their general functioning after utilizing their EAP resources.

The costs associated with divorce in 2010 were estimated at $36 billion. Employers need to get serious about providing their workers with comprehensive services to assist them through crises. State and federal regulators would do well to provide tax incentives for employers to do so.