What to do when employees’ personal problems affect work – Comment by Health Assured CEO and wellbeing expert David Price

Wayne Rooney’s latest PR disaster has seen him charged with drink driving and having to face allegations of impropriety with a woman whilst his wife was away on holiday.

It’s a story that has nothing to do with his footballing career, and yet it’s sure to impact his day job at Everton and could ultimately affect his performance on the pitch in upcoming fixtures. But how should employers go about dealing with potentially fragile personal problems employees may be facing?

Health Assured’s well-being expert David Price explores.


Performance and conduct are usually the first indicators to suggest that someone is suffering from problems. Especially if it is out of character. When performance drops we know the business can suffer. As employers, we may be tempted to manage the performance and not the person, which in times of distress can lead to disastrous consequences as relationship problems can be one of the biggest causes of stress and unhappiness in life.

With that in mind, it makes good business sense for employers to acknowledge the role they can play in assisting their employees through the upheaval of their personal problems. Employers cannot ignore the impact of a relationship breakdown may have on the well-being and productivity of their employees. Employees may find themselves in a position of uncertainty about their family, the future, whilst facing financial, childcare and living difficulties.

Work may suddenly become secondary, having a direct impact on business. Employees may be worried about legal procedures, financial disagreements, the impact on the children, time off work and the cost of solicitors and barristers’ fees. Their anguish at home may inevitably spill over into the workplace, leading to disruption, disharmony, depression, stress, anxiety and ultimately reduced work productivity or even job loss.

Employers can have a huge influence in ensuring that their employees feel supported when going through personal problems by running employee assistance programmes (EAP) that offer staff confidential support including counselling, information, guidance, and referrals on any work, personal or family issues. These services save employees time, stress and anxiety, and enable them to stay more focused and productive at work.

As well as a dramatic change in emotions, practical difficulties may arise in the breakdown. If the employee is getting divorced they may need time off work to attend meetings with solicitors, barristers and even court hearings. Working hours may need to be changed to accommodate new childcare responsibilities. Information may need to be provided on pension splitting in divorce. The more prepared the employer is the easier the employee will find this process.

Employers can also show support by being familiar with organisations that offer advice and information on the alternative approaches to managing relationship breakdown.

With mediation, a trained mediator provides a structured and informed environment in which parties can discuss and negotiate matters relating to their separation, including finances and children. In the collaborative process, both parties instruct their own solicitors and all meet together to work things out face-to-face in a constructive and non-contentious environment. While working together collaboratively, the parties have the support and legal advice of their own solicitors as they go.

It is important that employers bear in mind that each employee will respond differently to their personal issues. Some employees will find solace in work and find them able to stay focused and productive, whilst others will feel threatened by the prospect of losing their source of security and everyday lifestyle as they knew it. They could benefit from being assigned less stressful projects at work and given more flexibility, or even some time off, to help them deal with their problems.

Overall, this is a difficult issue any business to deal with so my advice would be to make sure you consult with the employee to find out the extent of the problem and try to come up with a solution that suits both parties.


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