“About half of marriages end in divorce” is a common stat that’s circulated in the U.S. Per the most up-to-date CDC data, that statistic still holds. Moreover, a 2022 study by Good Housekeeping and SupportPay suggests that about 70% of the workforce is touched by divorce at any given time.
While the prevalence of divorce remains, however, so does stigma.
Sheri Atwood, founder and CEO of SupportPay, a financial management system, recalled that her male coworkers taunted her about her status as a single mom throughout her divorce.
“I was a vice president at a tech company and I was constantly asked by my male counterparts if I could still do the job,” Atwood told HR Dive.
Along with harassment based on relationship status, employers and HR pros should also be vigilant regarding divorce’s effect on worker mental health — and subsequently, productivity.
Sixty-seven percent of divorced people experience health declines and strains on finances, data from the Good Housekeeping study suggests. Even more struggle with absenteeism from work and lost productivity for more than one year.
Atwood called divorce “the biggest disruption and distraction, and reduction in productivity.” Catalyzed by her own experiences, she founded SupportPay to ease the process of tracking finances and scheduling related to child custody arrangements. Atwood told HR Dive that her goal had been an amicable decoupling process. But she still was affected by phone calls from her ex during work meetings and pangs of concern about their shared child.
On top of that, the day-to-day operations of being a divorced working parent can wear down the most diligent employee — and lead to burnout.
“Without something like SupportPay, you're using a spreadsheet and you're texting pictures of receipts because [your ex] doesn’t believe it actually costs that much. You're reminding them, ‘Hey, you owe me this.’ You check your bank account to see if they actually deposited that money and then you're trying to update the spreadsheet through there,” Atwood said.
She illustrated how a last-minute shift in a co-parent’s schedule can derail an individual’s day. “It's hard enough to do it in a single household,” she continued. “But now think about doing it across households.”
From a compensation and benefits perspective, Atwood explained that SupportPay provides employers the tools to spread awareness in the workplace – from internal communication best practices, to external statements, to webinars for users, to one-on-one support calls.
“We also make sure that we don't share any confidential information with the employer; we even let [employees] register with their personal email address,” Atwood said. All that SupportPay reports back to clients is the number of employees using the platform.
A key approach was to eliminate administrative burden on HR managers.
The feedback seems to be tinged with a sense of wonder. Every person who has spoken to Atwood about the technology says, “I never thought about it,” Atwood said. For example, a peer recently told her that they had just run a seminar on working parents – and that addressing single or divorced working parents had not crossed their mind.
Atwood nods to the way that employee support is increasingly expansive in the compensation arena.
“Employers today are doing an amazing job of providing benefits and resources; everything from funeral planning, bereavement leave, time to adopt a child, fertility benefits, and even resources about being parents,” Atwood said.
“But when it comes to divorce, no one’s talking about it,” she said.