Divorce in the Workplace

It’s hard to tell your family and friends you’ve decided to divorce, but when and how do you share this information at work?

Your Boss

Your boss doesn’t need to know you’re getting a divorce, however, sharing this with him or her can have some benefits. You’re going to need time off for mediation, lawyer meetings, and/or court time. Having a boss who is sympathetic to what you’re going through will help with your time off requests. You may also get to the point where you need some kind of permanent schedule change to accommodate your parenting plan. A boss who is aware of what you’ve been going through will be more sympathetic.

What you don’t want to do, however, is let your boss think that the divorce is going to hurt your performance at work. Keeping your job is probably more important to you now than ever, with the financial turmoil you’re facing. You must show your boss you are as competent, timely, and reliable as ever, even if you don’t feel that way! Go the extra mile to prove you’re on your game.

The best way to tell your boss is request a few minutes of his or her time. Be straightforward and explain that you’re getting divorced, may need some time off or flexible hours, but that you are not going to let it interfere with your performance. Although it might be really hard not to, do not cry during this meeting. Keep it business-like and don’t go looking for a shoulder to cry on.

Close Co-Workers

It’s fine to tell your close office friends about your situation, but you want to be careful to do so in a private setting (the company lunchroom or restroom is not going to cut it). You’re going to need support, so you want your friends to understand what you’re going through. Ask these friends to keep the information to themselves until you feel ready to discuss it publicly. You also want to be sure these friends aren’t going to be constant reminders of what you’re going through — you don’t want them to ask you every single day how you’re doing or what’s happening with your divorce. Ask them to let you set the tone.

Everyone Else

It’s really hard to keep a secret in most offices. You’ll be overheard on the phone or in the hallways and people will talk. You may also need to tell your HR rep if there will be changes to health insurance.

Don’t put yourself in the position of trying to make some kind of announcement about your divorce. Instead, let it slip to the person with the biggest mouth, who will get the word out for you. Don’t share ANY details that you don’t want the entire world to know. Keep a stiff upper lip as much as possible. Try to have private calls outside the office and don’t discuss your divorce or any issues stemming from it using company email, even if it is to office friends.

Don’t burden clients with your news, unless they are close friends. Stay focused on work and decide to keep your personal life at home.

What To Do On a Bad Day

My advice has been pretty strict so far – basically say as little as possible. It’s important to be realistic though. You’re going through a really hard time and there are going to be tough days. Some days you may be on the verge of emotional collapse. Other days your ex might call you at work and get under your skin. Your attorney might need to talk to you immediately. You can’t completely keep your divorce out of your office life. Follow these tips to minimize damage:

- Get to a less public space whenever possible. If you need to cry, do it in the restroom. If you need to scream at your ex, take the phone outside. Your attorney wants to discuss financial details? Go to the storeroom or empty space where you can have at least some privacy.

- Apologize to co-workers who overhear your difficult conversations. “I’m so sorry you had to hear that. I’m really trying to keep my personal life out of the office.” This will make them even more sympathetic to you, since you are being clear you don’t want to burden others.

- Take emotional sick days. Your time off may be limited, but if you can swing it, take some time off when you are at your lowest point. Even leaving the office for lunch can give you a little break. If you suddenly feel like you’re going to fall apart, go outside and get some air. If you need support, ask an office friend to come with you.

- Distract yourself. Work is a great distraction from what’s happening at home, so use it to occupy your mind and keep yourself focused on non-emotional topics.

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12 Comments

  1. Sheryl
    Posted October 13, 2011 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    All great advice – especially the emotional sick days, which I call “mental health days.” So important, no matter what kind of emotional upheaval you might be going through, to take time for yourself.

  2. Posted October 13, 2011 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    Does any of this advice differ between when you’re in the process and then once the divorce is finalized?

  3. Posted October 13, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s pretty applicable then too. You don’t want to tell your boss more than you need to, you want office friends to support you when needed, and you don’t want everyone else in the office sticking their noses in!

  4. Posted October 13, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    Definitely true!

  5. Posted October 13, 2011 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    I like the idea of “emotional sick days.” I know that even today it is hard to talk about my divorce without feeling the emotion all over again, and it has been years.

  6. Posted October 14, 2011 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    The emotional sick days are good advice. I know many people who have been through this and there were some days they definitely couldn’t function. Did you see the letter in Dear Abby this week regarding the woman who comes in and complains to her co-worker all day long about her divorce?

  7. Posted October 14, 2011 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    A divorce, unfortunately, is likely to affect an individual’s performance, and for that reason it’s best to let your supervisor know. Provided your performance isn’t awful, though, you should weather the storm.

  8. Posted October 14, 2011 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    I think you want to be careful though not to set the expectation that you’re just planning to let the divorce ruin your performance. Clearly it is going to affect you, but you want your boss to know you’re going to continue to do your best at your job.

  9. Merr
    Posted October 14, 2011 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    It seems like whenever one is going through a chronically stressful time, mental health days need to be built into the schedule.

  10. Posted October 15, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    I think that is definitely true

  11. Posted October 17, 2011 at 12:02 am | Permalink

    It’s so hard to manage a divorce. Even a good one has all these difficulties. Thanks for this good advice. I’m so glad I’m married and planning to stay that way. But this is invaluable information for couples who can’t stay together.

  12. admin
    Posted October 17, 2011 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    Being a parent is complicated, no matter what your marital situation. Divorce is such a powder keg that it causes all sorts of problems, no matter how you handle it. And that doesn’t mean you should beat yourself up. You just need to be aware of what to expect, and how best to handle it.

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