How divorce impacts executive search strategies

Does the traditional nuclear family facilitate our talent management strategies?

One of the areas that anyone involved in the hiring process is not allowed to explore is the marital /relationship status of  any potential candidates. I am completely supportive of this, but with the caveat that it is impossible to separate a significant part of someone’s life and assume it doesn’t exist. It does, and in most cases, any difficulties will usually surface somewhere in the career transition process. Life issues do eventually become workplace issues.

Rise in divorce rates
I have noticed recently how the rise in divorce rates is impacting executive search. Last week alone, a significant number of potential candidates expressly cited divorce as a reason for not engaging in the search process.

Life events
This information is based on candidates willingly and voluntarily sharing very private and sensitive information with a total stranger. There are possibly others who just have just cited location, travel requirements, timing and all the other reasons candidates give for not being interested in a position. I have no idea if they are the real reasons. Given that (depending on the stats you read) roughly 50% of marriages end in divorce,  it’s perhaps possible that divorce underlies many candidates reluctance to engage.

Changing jobs is also one of life’s major challenges, especially to a new company, in possibly a new location.  Having these two major life events occurring simultaneously is too much for many. Even if the opportunity is a perfect fit, they have to turn it down.

Psychological impact
As anyone who has been through the process will tell you, the effects of divorce can change virtually every aspect of a person’s life including where they live and with whom , their standard of living, their emotional well-being, their financial situation and liabilities and time spent with children. For many their social group will change and perhaps the needs of new partners and their children will also have to be factored in, as modern family life becomes ever more complex. Almost all would describe it as a challenging and stressful time.

Time issues
The divorce process saps enormous amounts of both time and energy. It involves meetings with possibly lawyers, counsellors or therapists, real estate agents and financial advisors. Stress can lead to health issues requiring medical treatment. James, an ideal candidate for one particular search told me ” There is no way I could focus on changing jobs right now. I am struggling to keep all my balls in the air currently as it is. I have been depressed. Looking for somewhere new to live, dealing with lawyers and seeing my children at weekends, as well as my job, is all I can cope with at the moment. My manager is cutting me a lot of slack”

For one or both parties it will mean moving house, itself a life challenge. Child care arrangements will need to be set up as more and more children (50%) split their time between two households. This places a greater reliance for any professional person on local support networks,  which might include grandparents, day care or help at home, if it can be afforded. Quite often the current employer has been sympathetic which fosters additional and strong employee loyalty. Sometimes those same flexible arrangements cannot be replicated with a new company, especially at the start of a new job.

Joint custody
I talked to Annick in France whose employer had agreed to her travelling only during the weeks her ex husband was responsible for the care of their two children. This time was fixed by the court and was not flexible. But additionally, professional input suggests that fixed routines for children under these circumstances are best for their well-being and have to be strictly observed. Annick felt that her hands were tied at least for the next 10 years, until the children (ages 6 and 8 ) became more independent. Her future career she believed  would now be limited to local opportunities with limited travel.

Remote working
Many potential candidates in these circumstances ask about remote working. Most companies are reluctant to afford that facility to new employees at the beginning of their careers with their organisation, except possibly those in the sales force. There will usually be a certain period of onboarding, where it’s important for the new employee to be physically located with the people he or she is working with or managing.

Relocating as part of a family unit has its own stresses ( I’ve done it), but relocating as a single person, or even a single parent, is not straightforward. Pieter in Holland, in his early 50s with 2 adult children told me ” I’ve just gone through a divorce and chosen a house to be within easy distance of my kids. It has taken me time to rebuild my life and a social network. I just don’t want to start over in a new place. I am happy to travel so if the company would agree to some element of home office working – I could be open”

Saskia, is a senior executive I contacted her for a position based outside her native country, with a reasonably high level of travel. With the ink barely dry on her divorce papers she felt that she may not even be allowed to take her children out of the country on a permanent basis by her ex husband or the courts. With the high level of travel, she would have to hire support to cover any extended absence in addition to daycare. She didn’t want to do that, not just for financial reasons, but she simply didn’t want to put her children in on what would be at times 24 hour care, in a foreign country. In her current job and location their grandparents stepped in to fill the gap.

This significant trend is already having an impact on workplace dynamics. In the talent management sector we have become reliant on the existence of the traditional nuclear family, as a way of facilitating the movement of talent and supporting career transition. But it seems that is changing, so we have to find ways to adjust our strategies to make sure we are not losing the best talent because of circumstances which now a high percentage of the population are experiencing .

So what do we need to do to adapt to those changes? Ideas anyone?

13 responses to “How divorce impacts executive search strategies

  1. Hi Dorothy – interesting post and a trend I have observed myself. I recently tried to attract an excellent candidate from another company but the location of our offices increase his daily commute to over 1 hour. At the moment he lives close to his current company and near his children’s school . He is recently divorced and is struggling to make satisfactory and affordable arrangements to provide cover for his children on the days he is the carer. My company do not offer home office facilities usually until after a minimum of 6 months in post. I am trying to arrange some sort of flexitime – but there are still operational issues to consider which might make it a deal breaker.

    • Hi Simon thanks for sharing your experience. It would seem that in the past the family has facilitated caeer moves, particularly when potential candidates are parents. I would be interested to know how HR professionals are dealing with this changing demographic in the work place – if they are at all. I am told by teacher friends that they are highly primed to deal with changes in circumstances of the children – but are organisations?

  2. Hi Dorothy – I have a team of 9 and 4 are divorced – including myself. We are not atypical in my company. A very high percentage of the people I interview are also divorced and have a number of professional restrictions because of those circumstances. They are usually related to arrival and leaving times as well as travel. It lengthens the recruitment process to find the right balance. I’m not sure that HR functions really understand the impact of divorce on employees and just lump it together with stress. There are lots of practical issues impacting daily operations. One of my top most reliable managers made a mistake on the day he recieved his final divorce decree which cost the company thousands. He had not told us that his marriage had broken up and as you say life issues can eventually become workplace problems.

    • Thanks Gerry for your comment. It was interesting that one of your manager didn’t tell you that his divorce was going through until there was a problem. I wonder how common that is.

    • Hi Frederic – thanks for your comment. I agree that divorce can impact mothers and fathers either equally or in different ways. I was curious how workplace practises reflect this societal trend and if it is factored in to HR policy. I posted a question on a LinkedIn HR group discussion but as yet have had no feedback! No sure what that suggests!

  3. Thank you for your post.
    HR should be more listening to people and social trends and build a sustainable talent approach.
    Dads want also now take care for their children. And Moms want also they do. Both have and want to work.
    Flexibility of the work place and work time is certainly an issue, but HR has to help to increase a culture and policies in companies which helps this.
    Responsabilities and taking care for children is compatible with flexibility.
    The same flexibility companies are asking too…

  4. As someone who has worked for almost 5 years as a coach therapist in the relationship breakdown and divorce arena, I’m delighted to see this post. It is very welcome as are the comments.

    Relationship breakdown and divorce both create a very different type of stress as it insinuates itself into so many other parts of our lives – physically, mentally and emotionally.

    I have made attempts to speak with HR in connection with providing support and had no success – they either suggest that they have their own counsellors or are too small to consider using professional help.

    Employees will often keep their private lives separate to their working lives. I wonder how much of this is due to them being embarrassed or ashamed. Divorce is still seen as a ‘dirty’ word in many quarters.

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  6. Hi Dorothy…

    Divorce most certainly impacts a person’s psyche but I think HR should handle divorce the same as handling an employee welcoming a new baby, caring for an elderly parent, an employee overcoming an addiction, or worse a parent who has lost a child to disease or accident. At the the end of the day, all workers are different and their needs are vast. HR should access all needs with compassion and consistency.

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