Divorce is a common reality for many adults. According to recent government data, around 1.5 million people per year go through the divorce process in the United States. While this rate is declining, divorce is still prominent enough to be a common theme in stress, wellbeing, and social psychology research. However, one area still missing is examining how divorce affects people at work.
THE RESEARCH STUDIES
Researchers (Wanberg et al., 2023) conducted two studies that asked participants to respond to a variety of surveys, included reporting their experiences with the divorce process. In the first study of 542 participants, researchers found that people going through divorce reported more negative moods, lower job performance, and lower health quality (mental and physical), compared to those not actively going through a divorce.
In terms of specific reactions to divorce, the researchers found that people could respond either positively or negatively to divorce. Those who responded negatively reported intrusive negative emotions and reduced ability to focus on their work. Those who responded positively to divorce said they were able to devote more time, focus, and energy to their jobs and had renewed motivation for their job and careers.
In the second study of 281 participants, researchers found that those who experienced higher quality marriages (prior to dissolving) and those who anticipated financial struggles after the divorce experienced worse outcomes as they went through the divorce stage. These include lower engagement, job performance, and health quality (both mental and physical). Having children, on the other hand, seemed to produce a positive effect on the same outcomes. This was a surprising finding that was contrary to the researchers’ prediction.
Divorce is common and can contribute negatively to work outcomes. However, as these researchers found, not every individual will respond to divorce in the same way. For organizations and leaders who want to best support their divorcing employees, here are some practical tips:
- Offer accommodation such as flexible scheduling or remote work. This can allow employees the freedom to attend divorce-related appointments or relieve them from having to strictly manage their emotions in an office setting.
- Normalize various reactions to divorce. While negative reactions are common, so are positive ones. Don’t alienate or make assumptions about employees just because they are reacting one way or another.
- Openly communicate with your employees. People are going to have different reactions to divorce; listen to your employees to find out what they need and tailor your support and resources accordingly.
Wanberg, C. R., Csillag, B., & Duffy, M. K. (2023). After the break-up: How divorcing affects individuals at work. Personnel Psychology, 76, 77-112.
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