Divorce or relationship breakdown isn't something that staff will easily talk about, but it can create a lot of turmoil that will affect focus, productivity and effectiveness in the workplace. Here are five things to look out for in your staff and suggestions for staff policies to cope with this stressful life event.

Changed attendance at work

Arriving late, leaving early, leaving in the middle of the day for unexplained meetings.

Change in eating habits

Stress in divorce may lead to over-eating or under-eating. Some people definitely have a physiological reaction to stress that includes nausea and loss of appetite. This is a physiological stress response putting the body into emergency alert. Others eat more when under stress, perhaps to give a temporary blood sugar lift or for the emotional support that food seems to bring. There may also be extra coffee consumption, using caffeine as a drug that will counteract the energy drain of chronic stress.

Over-dependency on alcohol

An increase in drinking habits can indicate chronic stress. Alcohol uptake is a common way of dealing with the stress of a failing relationship, as it so effectively blots out the emotional pain of the loss of a relationship.

Complaining of or showing signs of fatigue

Divorce is fatiguing on emotional, mental and physical levels. There are a lot of new issues that have to be negotiated, practical aspects of one's life are possibly up in the air and there is financial uncertainty. Processing all of this change takes lots of emotional energy so it is a fatiguing process.

Becoming unusually moody, irritable or distracted

Imagine everything you thought was stable suddenly isn’t. Your significant other has turned into an alien being, you don’t know how family finances will pan out, you are not sure where you are all going to live and, heaven help us, you have to deal with lawyers and the arcane world of divorce law. Divorce law has few certainties in it other than you'll come out of the whole process poorer and feeling hard done by.

Even the most reasonable and rational of beings will struggle to maintain calm in this scenario. I have known people who themselves are lawyers become floored by the divorce process. It's easy to tip into overwhelm and this will threaten focus and productivity at work.

How you can help:

*  Look at your HR policies in advance and make sure they cover major life changes e.g. major health issues, bereavement, divorce, sickness of a relative and so on. If you have a structure in place to handle such events make sure staff know what that structure is and whom they should approach to discuss particular difficulties.

*  Create an environment where it is acceptable to seek help before the crisis impacts on work. During divorce people's coping skills are stretched to the limit so it's a good idea for them to get help before they snap. Have in place a stress management programme and consider using specialist coaches for events such as bereavement or divorce. Making this part of your benefits or wellbeing package may seem odd to some of your employees, but when they need it they will appreciate it!

*  Work with the employee so that you are kept informed and they are supported. Support may be practical e.g. allowing flexible working, providing information on managing stress, allowing frequent breaks (tired brains will not focus for long). Time off may be needed for court appearances – recognise that either side of a court hearing your employee will be ultra-stressed and be prepared for this.

Expert support in divorce can cut down on the stress, the time the divorce takes and its cost. It will support your staff member at a time of maximum distress, to maintain the focus and productivity you need. Recognising what your staff member faces in divorce and giving them a pathway to get through divorce successfully will benefit both you and your staff.