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Employment / Employee Retention / Productivity / Workplace Issues

The impact of divorce on business

September 25, 2009

The news was uncomfortable for Hoosiers when the Census Bureau disclosed this week that three of the top 10 counties in the nation with the highest concentrations of divorced people are in Indiana.

Topping the list was Wayne County (Richmond), where 19 percent of residents at least age 15 are divorced. The other two were Madison County (Anderson) and Floyd County (across the river from Louisville).

Wayne County’s rate is almost double the nation’s, but experts interviewed by national and local news organizations couldn’t explain the numbers. What isn’t known about the Indiana counties is whether the figures were pushed up by high populations of divorced people or simply young people leaving the counties for college or other reasons.

Florida also had three top counties, but one is in the Florida Keys, an archipelago hideout for folks running from ex-spouses and all other manner of trouble.

Just how might divorce affect business? Herman Aguinis, an Indiana University human resources expert, says, “It is illusory to believe that our personal lives do not affect our work lives, and vice versa.”

Research has long showed a correlation between home life and work performance, Aguinis says, and a Boston University study went so far as to discover a link between the status of a particular professor’s marriage and the professor’s student evaluations. The evaluations suffered during the professor’s separation and divorce, and then recovered after a remarriage.

Aguinis adds that the impact of divorce depends on personalities of the individuals involved as well as the families. Some people are more resilient than others.

Longtime human resources professional Harlan Schafir has seen employees go through excruciating divorces, and he thinks he’s onto as good a way as any to handle them.

Schafir, who is majority owner of Exact Hire and Human Capital Concepts in Indianapolis, makes clear to the employee that he understands they will be distracted and lose their productive edge for a time. Then he tells them to come and go from work as they wish; he only wants to know their whereabouts.

Giving workers time to deal with their problems and heal is the right thing to do from a human perspective, Schafir says. But it’s also good business.

“If you develop the right culture, it’s a huge component to your success,” he says. “The way you treat your employees is the way they’ll treat your customers.”

What do you think? In your experience, how has divorce—yours or that of a coworker’s—affected your work place?

Here’s a wrinkle: If marriage is so closely tied to success at work, how do some CEOs and other highly successful people endure multiple divorces and still make it to the top?

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