Are you contemplating divorce? Are you at the beginning of your legal action? Are you mired in a mess of paperwork and procedures that have been dragging on for months?
If you’re working, you expect job challenges when you’re divorcing. As with any serious life event, you’re preoccupied, you’re distracted, you’re going through a breadth of emotional changes and your job performance will likely be impacted.
If you’re lucky, you have employers and co-workers who are compassionate, and who cut you a break during a time that can be draining, demoralizing, and disorienting.
Now you could say that stress and interruptions occur during other periods of upheaval as well – death of a spouse or loved one, serious illness, a family crisis. But these occurrences don’t bear the same finger-pointing that divorce does. While divorce may now be commonplace, many still believe you “did something” to bring it on, and you’re therefore to blame.
Consequently, even your friends may cut you less slack than if some event “outside your control” befalls you. And if they’re divorced, they expect your version of divorce to be similar to theirs in terms of impact, outcome, and time frame for recovery.
Divorce Details… And Meanwhile, Your Job?
Incidentally, facing job performance challenges during divorce is not a gender issue. Men and women both deal with interruptions and extra workload, not to mention incredible stress.
As for those interruptions, how about these for starters?
* meetings with attorneys, mediators, financial planners, accountants
* meetings with realtors and appraisers as home value is determined; home sale discussed
* gathering documentation of assets, liabilities, income, expenses, and other factors for division of assets, child support calculations, etc.
* gathering documentation to back up custody and visitation requests
* court appearances, depositions
* meetings with teachers or counselors pertaining to your children
Trust me – that is not an exhaustive list.
Emotions at Home, Emotions on the Job
Naturally, we’re also battling the breadth of emotions that take place regardless of our role in “wanting” the divorce.
Who doesn’t experience at least a few angry phone calls, disruptive emails, tantrums from children, lectures (and tirades) from family members on both sides, and any number of painful scenes at home that leave their mark?
Aren’t some of us dealing with issues of identity?
Who are we after a long marriage if not “John’s wife” or “Annie’s husband?” What about our sleepless nights consoling crying kids? Aren’t we subject to health-damaging behaviors, like excessive drinking, smoking, eating – or not eating at all?
How could this short list of impacts not affect your performance at work?
Divorce Helpers: The Understanding Boss
One of the greatest helpers during divorce?
If you’re working a “traditional” office job, one of the unspoken heroes in divorce is the understanding boss, whose smart managerial skills and compassion can go far in easing your situation. She can:
* temporarily reassign work
* temporarily rearrange a schedule or allow increased remote work
* change deadlines to accommodate legal actions and parenting issues
* provide the occasional strong shoulder you may need to lean on.
Can this continue forever? Certainly not. And nor should any temporary arrangement be abused, much less demanded.
An Example of a Great Boss and Creative Solution
During separation and divorce, though I had recently been laid off during a restructure, the head of a department other than mine took me into his group on a temporary basis. He had been pleased with my work over the years as I interacted with his team, and when he knew I was having a rough time with my personal situation, his kindness was amazing.
He tinkered with his budget to pay me for as long as possible, he allowed me to crank out deliverables primarily from home, and that in turn permitted me to manage my increasingly complicated schedule.
To say that I was grateful is an understatement. I produced the best possible work for him, which in a way was a relief from thinking about my worries. And if he thought my “usual” was good, I did everything in my power to make my current work even better.
Although we reached a point when he could no longer provide me the option to continue in this special role, I’ve never forgotten his kindness and creativity in structuring a solution that was a win-win for both.
Tips, Ideas, Resources
Please note: These tips and ideas are offered as a function of my personal experience. I am not a credentialed counselor in any area, but consider those that seem fitting relative to your job situation.
* Put it down on paper: your skills, your credentials, your experience, your accomplishments. Not only will this remind you of your competence at a time when confidence may be flagging, but this can become a tool in a job search or a discussion of a job reconfiguration in your current employment.
* If your management is open to accommodating an employee’s personal circumstances, schedule a meeting with your immediate supervisor – and bring your list! Explain where you are in the divorce process, clearly express what you bring to the job, and if there are job responsibilities you know you cannot fulfill without some flexibility – traveling weekly for example – calmly explain.
* Be proactive by coming to the meeting prepared with alternatives as well in terms of resources, scheduling, and logistics. Be as specific as possible.
* Only you can know if your organization will be receptive to this kind of honesty. If you don’t think this will fly, then don’t do it! Protect yourself financially for as long as you can.
* Consider a buddy system. Is there someone with whom you work that you trust completely? Can they be your “clear head” on rough days? Your backup on the days when all hell breaks loose?
* Use your “buddy” to discuss other options at the organization. You may be able to propose a revised job description or schedule that will produce precisely the same results or better. Discussion and research may reveal that a more fitting position will soon be available that’s more suitable to your changing domestic picture.
* If you are a manager or supervisor and one of your employees is going through divorce, consider a special arrangement – at least on a trial basis. Naturally, you need the work to get done, but there’s an excellent chance you’ll garner loyalty and a great outcome.
Special Challenges in Special Jobs?
What if your job involves dealing with the public? You’re a sales person, a high school teacher, a physician, a consultant.
What if you need every ounce of concentration and you’re finding it difficult to work? You’re a pilot, you’re a bus driver, you’re a child care provider, you’re a fire fighter.
Consider asking yourself these questions:
* Can you take a leave of absence?
* Is that even an option?
* Is that your only option if you’re otherwise endangering yourself or someone else?
* If it isn’t an option, who can you talk to? Who can help?
You may be one of the fortunate who possesses laser focus when performing your job. If so, excellent! But many of us are unable to compartmentalize – regardless of our jobs. Or, we may have difficulty for the first few months of our divorce proceedings, and then we’re beginning to “get back to normal” – at least on the job!
And what about the divorce that drags on? The once understanding boss who’s had enough of your interruptions for court appearances and your mistakes on critical projects?
Ask for help.
The Importance of Asking for Help
There is no weakness in asking for help. For many of us, divorce is a crisis with so many repercussions we can’t seem to contain them. Asking for help is only natural, though it may feel extremely difficult.
I say that admitting that I was raised to be independent, and asking for help has always been uncomfortable for me.
I was wrong to feel that way and even more wrong to act accordingly – especially during divorce. But I say that knowing there are many more resources available today than there were 12 years ago when I was going through this.
Find help. If money is a problem – it certainly was for me – you can find skilled counselors of various types who will offer their services to you on a sliding scale. These include counseling services for you, as well as your children.
If you have extended family, close friends, online communities, or faith organizations to turn to, do not let pride stand in the way of keeping yourself, your children, and others you come in contact with “intact.”
On a personal note, I have encountered extraordinary kindness when I most needed it – and often from strangers.
If you need help, seek it.
Don’t act entitled to it, but rather be as clear, calm, and specific about what you need as possible. Be just as appreciative of suggestions and referrals as assistance from the individual or organization you are speaking to.