Dear Dorothy… Help! How do I manage my career through my divorce?
Managing your career through divorce
Dear Dorothy - My marriage is falling apart and I feel sure that an acrimonious separation and divorce are imminent. I can't see any way that this relationship can be fixed or saved. I have a senior position as a Marketing Director with a reasonable level of travel and out of office hours business commitments. My children are 14, 11 and 7. I am extremely stressed, worried about the future and very fragile. I can't believe I am going to be a single Mum. How can I protect my job and reputation as I am sure I currently under performing. What steps can I take to manage my career through divorce? Petra, South Africa
Petra I'm sorry to hear your story. I know how difficult this experience can be. Divorce is cited as one of life's most stressful situations anyone can experience. Everyone reacts differently and has their own coping mechanisms. To be clear, I am not a relationship coach, so any suggestions I make about managing your career through divorce will have a professional focus only.
One thing to bear in mind is that as many as 50% of marriages break up, so although becoming a statistic is not helpful to you right now (it wasn't to me) many of your colleagues will be sympathetic and may even have had the same experience.
It may not feel like it at the moment, but this is temporary. Your career is not. So protecting your professional life is critical to your long term well being. Although the future looks bleak and uncertain at the moment, being professionally and financially successful and secure will be a huge achievement and eventually a source of comfort. Managing your career through divorce is really important.
Some factors to consider:
- The fact that you have written to me suggests that you are open to receiving help. This is positive. Consider finding a counsellor or relationship coach to support you through this difficult transition. This will be a neutral person who will be there just for you. Many women find that this is a period of general life evaluation, in which case professional input can be even more helpful. But you are asking how to protect your career, not wondering if you still want one.
- Notify your boss and some key co-workers, and depending on the size of your company and relationship with the function, your H.R. department too. Do this on an information, need-to-know, facts only basis. If you are emotional/angry/dis-orientated it's better they know why. Discuss your out of office hours functions and travel commitments and work out what options exist for managing them in these new circumstances. The divorce of an employee can present a hidden cost for organisations if the focus of a key executive falls off. It's in the interests of all to support you through this process.
- Find a mentor. Be mindful of your own behaviour and check-in with a mentor to benchmark the perceptions of your colleagues. When people are experiencing a crisis, they lose concentration, are less productive and creative. Anger and mood swings can be projected onto co-workers and customers. It's important to get feedback.
- Do you need to save vacation days or unpaid leave of absence to cover all the separation and divorce formalities? You will need time off to see lawyers, banks, financial advisers, the children's school and perhaps even move house. The paper work to separate your joint entity for official bodies and authorities is significant and time consuming.
- Identify a group of confidantes outside the workplace. You will almost certainly want to vent, but the details of your relationship breakdown should be for your inner, private circle only, rather than becoming the latest water cooler topic and grist for the office rumour mill. The more senior you are the greater the interest usually.
- With three children and travel commitments, set up some childcare plans for any absences and try perhaps to minimize any trips in the short term. You don't want to have additional practical issues to worry about on top of everything else. That will certainly impact your performance if you are constantly looking at your watch or checking your phone. Consider hiring someone for after school childcare until you and your husband have sorted out provisional separation arrangements. Children are very often collateral damage in any relationship breakdown so make sure that they are also getting all the support and stability they need.
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- Custody Factor your travel commitments in when discussing custody with your husband. I am observing that custody arrangements are becoming greater considerations in career management, especially if either partner could be required or wish to re-locate geographically.
- Personal calls and/or email. Make sure as much of the contact relating to your situation is kept on a private email account or phone. You don't want the IT department to have visibility on the minutiae of your relationship breakdown and saved on the company server, or your P.A to hear vitriolic voice mails from your soon to be ex. You definitely don't want anyone to pitch up at the office.
- In the midst of the chaos find time and energy to look after yourself. During the inevitable upheaval your focus may shift to looking after your children. They will be best protected if their Mum is fully functioning - so don't put your own needs too far onto the back burner, tempting though that may be.
Hope this helps.
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