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Suzanne Townley

News Editor, Solicitors Journal

Major law firms join employee divorce support initiative

Major law firms join employee divorce support initiative


A survey revealed family breakdown can have a negative impact on workplace performance

Law firms Payne Hicks Beach, Boyes Turner, Mills & Reeve and Laura Devine have signed up to a new initiative to support practitioners and other employees who are going through separation, as a new survey reveals family breakdown can have a negative impact on workplace performance.

Companies such as Asda, Metrobank, NatWest, PwC, Tesco, Unilever and Vodafone are already members of the Positive Parenting Alliance (PPA). The PPA is a group of organisations and individuals whose aim is to create a more compassionate culture and protect the wellbeing of children in separation, including by the introduction of more family-friendly HR policies for staff going through a divorce or separation.

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.

A survey by PPA found 90 per cent of respondents said their work performance was impacted when they went through a divorce, and 95 per cent reported their mental health at work suffered. More than 74 per cent admitted they were less efficient at work and over 39 per cent felt they had to take time off work as a result of their separation. Over 12 per cent stopped work altogether.

The survey of more than 200 employees across a range of businesses also showed just over half (52 per cent) said, as a result of their separation, they felt they might lose their job or thought about voluntarily leaving; and only nine per cent said their employer had specific policies or support for employees going through separation or divorce.

Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the Family Division, commented: “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.”

Founder of the Positive Parenting Alliance, James Hayhurst, 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.”

"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”, he added. 

"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.”

National chair of Resolution, Juliet Harvey, said: “There has been considerable effort outside of the workplace to limit the impact separation and divorce has on the family unit. With work and personal lives now more intertwined than ever as working patterns have changed, it’s more important that employers are proactive in supporting employees and their families when there’s a family breakdown. We at Resolution hope more employers sign up to this initiative, so that an already stressful time can be made just a little bit easier, providing separating couples with more headspace and time to hopefully find more constructive and amicable ways forward.”

PPA will launch a campaign in parliament tomorrow (26 January). Joined by Siobhan Baillie MP, Rory Sutherland 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: 

  • Recognition of separation as a ‘life event’ in HR policy so those experiencing separation feel recognised and able to access support. 
  • Ensuring separating parents have access to flexible working to enable them to manage school and childcare pick-ups and drop-offs while they reconfigure their family setups. 
  • Giving employees access to, and directing them to, emotional counselling during this period. 
  • Signposting and access to separation support services so parents can have the guidance and support they need to separate in the most compassionate and child-focused way.