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The Parents Promise & Supporting Separating Families in the Workplace

Some moments in life are there to be treasured forever. Births and adoptions for example. Employers and employment laws acknowledge these with time set aside through maternity and now shared parental leave.

Other points in our lives are challenging and distressing. The loss of a loved one or long-term illness would fall into this category and, again, good employers recognise these and support their colleagues in their time of need.

But these are not an exhaustive list of the life-changing events many of us experience and some fall between the cracks. Among those is perhaps the most challenging after bereavement – the break-up of a long-term relationship.

Supporting separating families in the workplace

Every year, an estimated 280,000 children see their family unit break up. To put that into context, if the number alone isn’t proof enough, that’s the population of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne’s worth of children going through a family breakdown every single year.

And that number doesn’t include the parents or step parents. All of them facing the challenge of starting again. That’s an awful lot of people every year coming to terms with a huge change in their lives – sometimes planned, often not.

The vast majority of these parents and step parents, and also some of the children themselves who are now adults, are someone’s colleague at work. Yet the law and most employers’ policies set no time aside to allow those colleagues to adjust.

A Hidden Problem

Now, there will be those who say ‘don’t bring your problems to work’ and ‘you’re paid to work, not to worry about personal issues’.

But before dismissing this as a relevant issue, it’s worth considering the facts. We all know that happy, engaged, settled colleagues work more effectively, deliver better results and are more likely to stay with their current employer.

However, research from Resolution in 2014 revealed that one in seven workers said relationship breakdowns had negatively affected their business’ productivity. 16% said they’d seen their workplace affected by sick leave linked to the stress and anxiety of a relationship break-up and worse still 9% said that separation had forced them to leave their roles completely.

And that was eight years ago, before the added strain we’ve all experienced from living through the pandemic. It’s inconceivable that those figures wouldn’t at the very least be the same now and could very well be higher.

Relationship breakdown isn’t just an issue for those affected. It also has a very real impact in the workplace and that’s why it’s something to which employers need to be attuned, if they’re not already.

Wellbeing has never been more important than it is currently. As with those other life-changing events, understanding the effect break-ups can have on colleagues – even temporarily – is in everyone’s interests – as well as being the right thing to do.

Positive Action, Positive Parenting

The Positive Parenting Alliance is a group of expert UK organisations and individuals who believe that no child deserves the most negative experience of parental separation or divorce. Our members include OnlyMums&Dads, Relate, Place2Be, Asian Single Parents Network and Black Mums Upfront amongst many others.

Last year we launched a simple commitment called The Parents Promise to encourage parents or would-be parents to discuss how they’d best work together for the welfare of their children should their romantic relationship ever come to an end and need to transition to a co-parenting one. Incredibly our research found that almost 9 in 10 couples had talked about how they would spend a lottery win, but just 5% admitted to having discussed potential parenting arrangements in the event of a separation or divorce.

It’s not a topic most want to even think about and the same almost certainly applies to the vast majority of businesses. But if separation and divorce can have such a substantial impact on a business, it makes sense to factor it in.

That’s why we’re now calling on UK businesses to help better protect children and families during separation by implementing four simple HR policy initiatives to help support separating parents to ‘separate well’.

  1. To recognise separation as a ‘life event’ in HR policy so that those experiencing separation feel recognised and realise that they can access support.

  2. To ensure parents going through a separation to have access to flexible working to enable them to manage school and childcare pick-ups and drop offs whilst they reconfigure their family setups.

  3. To give employees access to, and point them towards, emotional counselling during this period.

  4. To provide signposting and access to separation support services – provided by the Positive Parenting Alliance - so that parents can have the guidance and support that they need to separate in the most compassionate and child-focussed way.

By giving employees separation support, flexibility and guidance employers can help their colleagues through a moment of huge emotional trauma. Not only will this have a significant positive effect on the families concerned, it will also ensure better employee mental health and fewer sick days.

Even more importantly, we also believe that the ‘halo effect’ of businesses recognising this issue will have a significant, and positive, influence on how wider society deals with separation.

A Personal Perspective

Having been through the pain and anxiety of a separation myself, I know the impact it can have on individuals and those around them.

That’s why we launched the #ParentPromise last year and why we’re now urging employers to take the next step and help colleagues through this traumatic moment in their lives. That can only have a significant positive effect on the 280,000 children who will face family breakdown in the next 12 months alone.

This just doesn’t just matter to them or me. It matters to us all and we believe with these initiatives’ businesses can help catalyse significant cultural change and make UK society a much more compassionate one.

If you’re interested in being part of the change, and to find out more information please get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.

About James Hayhurst

James is the founder of the Positive Parenting Alliance and creator of the Parents Promise. Having seen up close the multitude of issues in the family courts and the scale and numbers of children affected James wanted to begin a new conversation about separation. In May 2021, after many conversations with like-minded people and organisations the Parents Promise was launched. Backed by over 20 organisations ranging from the likes of the children’s mental health charity Place2Be to Relate to Black Mums Upfront the aim of the Alliance is to effect important cultural change around separation in the UK and beyond.

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James Hayhurst

"James is happiest post Sunday morning run with a latte in his hand or playing with his two daughters on a lazy weekend afternoon."



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