(by Dr. David Schopick, as appeared at SeacoastOnline.com)
Try as we might to be professional, it can often be impossible to leave personal issues at home. We are, after all, only human and when there is a rift, tragedy or serious concern on the homefront, the worries, fears and emotions surrounding that issue often follow us into the workplace.
Many executives and business owners struggle with serious emotional issues, both personal and business-related, that, if left unchecked, will affect their work performance. Common personal crises include depression, drug and alcohol abuse and loss of a loved one. The most common personal stresses are family issues. These can include marital and relationship problems, issues with the children and personal health issues. Sometimes workplace issues also trigger personal stress. The most common professional crises include being passed over for a promotion, feeling overwhelmed by career expectations, reduced productivity and under-performance. These and many other personal and professional problems can occur alone or in concert with each other. When a business owner or executive is hit with this “double whammy,” it can be very hard to perform as needed at work.
Without question, one of the family issues that places executives and employees most at risk for a personal and professional crisis is divorce. Since divorce usually occurs after months or years of discord and dissatisfaction, it should come as no surprise that the divorce process itself is particularly stressful. When children are involved, they are often placed in the middle, and alienation and other emotional difficulties can occur. Child support and alimony can leave people with less than half of their incomes. Such a sudden change in finances can precipitate additional stress as they may be faced with drastic changes in residence, lifestyle and coping with the cost of living.
Unfortunately, many people preparing for divorce simply don’t understand how quickly emotions on both sides can escalate. As a result, they do not take the proper precautions to protect themselves, their jobs and their businesses. Many of my divorcing clients have been shocked to learn that, if left unchecked, their raging emotions can cause them to wind up in court. Some intense divorces have led to restraining orders, which, if ignored, can lead to even more serious problems.
Wage-earning spouses in the midst of divorce often find themselves at the lowest point of their lives, for reasons they rarely understand. They had no idea that the divorce process could lead to the loss of so much. The conversion of a loved one to a destructive adversary is often overwhelming, and the divorce can lead to depression, anxiety, insomnia, self-doubt, chemical abuse or excess and, sometimes, self-destructive thoughts.
Impacts on the workplace
When personal trauma strikes, a person who is usually a confident, successful leader or productive employee can suddenly have difficulty concentrating, organizing, leading or getting work done. If a leader is not productive, then there is usually a “trickle-down” effect with those people working for him also seeing a drop in output and efficiency. The effects of this personal crisis may not appear until many months after the trouble has begun, but once they start, they can lead to lost opportunities that could have meant growth and income for the company. In worst-case scenarios, those who are really struggling may find their jobs at risk or even lose their positions. This causes even more emotional and financial difficulty for the person involved, and can send them on a downward spiral. From the company’s point of view, replacing a formerly high-performing executive can often cost tens of thousands of dollars in recruiters’ fees and lost profit. Therefore, it is beneficial for both the company and the affected employee/executive to embark on a plan of assistance as soon as a crisis presents itself.
This is also true if the affected party is the owner of the business, and especially in the case of divorce. In a divorce, personal and business concerns quickly become mixed and as a result, the business can be affected as well. Money and property become central to the process, and company equity, stock options, and retirement plans, as well as homes, can all be brought to the table to be divided. The often drastic change in income and lifestyle also adds another huge level of stress on the person involved.
When employee productivity drops, having a conversation about possible stressors and mental health issues can be valuable. Acknowledging the problem is the first step toward finding a solution, whether that be treatment for mental health or addiction issues, allowing for some time off if there is a family or personal crisis, or simply letting the employee know that support is there. If the issue is workplace-related, a constructive conversation about how the employee can improve his or her chances for advancement can often reinvigorate optimism and enthusiasm and get work back on track.
Divorce is among the more challenging scenarios to deal with because the process can be long and the emotional impacts can also endure. Early on, before the executive or employee begins the divorce process, he or she and their superior should work together to identify potential problems and obtain help. For an employee, the company may offer mental health benefits and be able to direct him to a helpful counselor.
If the person is an executive, it can be worthwhile for the company to hire a well-trained and highly experienced professional consultant who can educate the executive and his supervisors about the rigors of the divorce process. This consultant in no way replaces, interferes or competes with the attorney. Rather, the consultant and attorney should complement each other in a positive and collaborative way for the ultimate benefit of the client AND his company. This consultant should provide support and coaching to the executive, helping him to function effectively under difficult circumstances and to better understand how he needs to adjust his behavior to achieve the best possible outcome. Such a consultant can offer advice on effective stress management, communication skills, leadership skills during this difficult time, and managing change. Innovative methods for enhancing performance while under duress should also be discussed. The consultant may also accompany the client to attorney meetings if needed.
Early support for an employee or an executive means fewer surprises later on and can help the person involved cope better with the stress, with life changes, and with keeping his life and career on track. The sooner the crisis is resolved, the sooner everyone is able to be back to peak productivity. This means stability for the company, as well as for the people and families involved.
Dr. David J. Schopick is a psychiatrist in private practice in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He is board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology in adult, adolescent and child psychiatry and has been serving patients in the Greater Seacoast area and beyond for more than 25 years. Dr. Schopick is also a consultant and coach to businesses in the areas of executives in crisis, improving stress management and communication skills in the workplace, and change management. For information, call 603-431-5411 or visit www.schopickpsychiatry.com.