Businesses asked to add family dispute resolution to employee benefit schemes

Jane Robey
As a newly-published report studies the impact of work-life balance challenges upon the quality of our relationships, large businesses are being urged to extend employee benefit schemes to include family dispute resolution services.

Today’s report from Relate and Relationships Scotland, The Way We Are Now, calls on employers to provide relationship counselling and support. Welcoming the report, National Family Mediation (NFM) says big firms should go further, providing easy access for staff undergoing family breakdown to mediators who can ease the stress and cost burden that divorcing couples face.

Jane Robey, CEO of NFM, said: “The pressures and stresses of balancing work and home life are amplified when relationships breakdown as life goes into free fall.

“We fully support the report’s calls for employers to be more proactive about providing relationship support, but this needs to extend beyond relationship counselling and into the practicalities of handling the whirlwind of family breakdown, separation and divorce.

“One in two marriages end in divorce. Look at any large employer and you’ll find at any one time significant numbers of staff will be experiencing the upheaval that separation creates.

“Divorce and family breakdown is known to seriously disrupt all aspects of an adult's life for up to two years,” she said, adding that for employers this means:
  • staff absenteeism whilst they tend to private affairs
  • lower productivity as they can't manage their chaotic private and family life
  • depression, anxiety and psychological problems created by the stress of the end of the marriage

“Separating couples are usually either paying expensive legal fees to make settlements through the courts over property, parenting and money, for something that might be relatively straightforward, or trying to manage their divorce themselves.

“It’s time-consuming, complicated and unfamiliar. It leads to greater anxiety as they try to understand for themselves how to file applications at court, prepare the right paperwork and - quite apart from that - psych themselves up to defend their case.

“None of this helps the business’s bottom line,” says Jane Robey.

She said big firms should look to extend employee benefit schemes to provide family mediation, a short, time-limited intervention that helps people resolve all the legal and emotional aspects of a divorce or separation. It is usually cheaper, quicker and less stressful than following the lawyer-courtroom route.

“The benefits to business would be numerous, limiting the impact on the employer of personal upheaval and helping maintain productivity, for example. Importantly, staff morale and wellbeing would be damaged much less than if couples battle it out in a family court. And it would help improve staff retention and loyalty: employees will know that in difficult times their bosses were able to provide constructive and cost effective support.”