Stress of Lord Sugar's boardroom nothing compared to stress of divorce

Comment Piece

27 Nov 2014

Lauren Riley

By Lauren Riley, from BBC’s Apprentice and member of Resolution.

This year I was lucky enough to be chosen as one of Lord Sugar’s 20 possible apprentices. However, the stress of sitting in his board room week-after-week, fearing that the jabbing finger and the stern gaze will settle on you, is nothing compared to the stress that many people deal with in the work-place every day. That stress multiplies for those people going through relationship break-ups.

The Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan-Smith, said earlier this month that companies should help employees going through marital break-ups to prevent them 'crashing out' of work. New data published today supports this, shining a light on just how much needs to be done to support the almost a quarter of a million people who divorce each year and the many more who separate from long-term relationships.

The new research by Resolution, the organisation representing family lawyers, finds that 15% of workers have had to take sick leave due to the stress of a break-up, or have seen a colleague do so. The same number say that productivity at their workplace has suffered because of a colleague’s separation. Relationship break-up can be the most stressful thing many people will ever go through, so it’s hardly surprising that it will impact the workplace –where most spend the majority of their days. The onus is on both the legal profession and employers to do more to support separating couples.

As a family lawyer by trade, I witness the impact of family breakdown on people who are trying to manage stressful separations whilst also trying to hold down a stressful job. Stress at work is one of the leading causes of people taking sick leave. According to the Health and Safety Executive over 105 million days are lost to stress each year, costing UK employers £1.24 billion. Think of the benefits to UK plc if we could mitigate just some of this stress: helping employees’ mental health and improving workplace productivity. In fact I have developed an app designed to improve productivity in the workplace and keep stress levels to a minimum. So what can be done?

For one thing, separating couples need better signposting to the options available to them, designed to take the adversarial sting out of the break-up. The general public still holds a dim view of these methods, like mediation and family arbitration, believing wrongly that they don’t fully resolve disputes. As a lawyer I can tell you they do.

Employers on the other hand need to improve the support they offer staff. Resolution’s survey found that just 10% of people think employers offer adequate support for those going through separation. HR departments need to start treating separation as a trauma and get better at understanding how to help employees through it. As the Pensions Secretary said, companies must get better at identifying these problems and offering help before they get worse.

Lengthy, stressful separations are bad for couples, bad for employers and inevitably bad for the economy. With a quarter of a million people divorcing each year, it’s a problem that’s not going away.

Follow Lauren on Twitter: @misslaurenriley