Productivity at work is damaged by relationship issues at home

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Tips for improving productivity at work

What are the secrets to greater productivity at work? Well, happiness has to be right at the top of the list.

Happy people are more productive in the workplace. Common sense tells us that.

One of the things that can make us happy and content – or not – is our marriage or romantic relationship.

In fact, it’s probably the main thing that makes us happy or sad, which means it’s one of the main things that damages or improves productivity at work.

Productivity at work statistics show that people who are happy in their home relationships perform better in the office.

Our research has found that problems in romantic relationships at home are having a major impact on how the UK’s high-earners perform at work.

Research done for us by YouGov shows that more than 40% of people earning at least £100,000 have encountered domestic problems that were severe enough to significantly damage productivity in the office.

But the issue of the quality of people’s romantic relationships and marriages is rarely, if ever, addressed by employers.

That includes the really good firms that invest heavily in the wellbeing of their staff.

This has to change.

Maintain and improve productivity in the workplace

The big problem is no one is really measuring the impact of relationship breakdown on performance and productivity at work.

But if employee wellbeing is indeed a major concern, we can’t sweep this one under the carpet.

So, you should consider the impact of relationship breakdown as a root cause or source of wellbeing and mental health issues, and include a proactive approach to supporting relationships in wellbeing initiatives.

It’s great having gym memberships and mindfulness at work, but the problems at home still greet you at the door.

Companies should regard equipping employees with the skills to improve their romantic relationships as a huge opportunity to help breathe new energy and vitality into their workforces, thereby improving productivity in the work environment.

Does relationship trouble and break-up damage productivity at work?

When people are emotionally distracted, workplace productivity is damaged through absence – physical and also mental.

This mental absence makes relationship breakdown in the corporate world especially damaging because the nature of the work is so mentally demanding… that client pitch that could spell the difference between missing or hitting your targets for the year… that multi-million deal (or was that multi-billion?) that requires super focus to close.

The challenge in the corporate world is that the very nature of the work itself can create or exacerbate relationship problems.

High stress, long hours and extended time apart to travel on business take their toll.

And when you add to the mix the high-octane combination of power, success, the trappings of wealth, and multiple rounds of corporate entertainment that often abound in these environments, temptation is generally in no short supply.

The vulnerability that can come from being surrounded by beautifully presented people, each throwing off warmer vibes than the daggers that were being shot at you as you left home under stress that morning, is not to be underestimated.

Corporate professional environments top the charts for ‘the double whammy’ on relationships – stressful relationships at home negatively impacting workplace productivity, and lower productivity creating more stress on the job, which then further increases unhappiness at home and therefore damages productivity at work.

In these kinds of environments, as one divorce lawyer eloquently puts it, the ‘circle of distraction’ is complete.

As a corporate employer then, the simple question is this – what can you do to improve the wellbeing and productivity of employees? How can you help them to improve performance at work?

Is there any research about productivity at work and relationship problems?

Yes. There is.

Research done for us by YouGov reveals that problems in romantic relationships at home are having a major impact on how the UK’s high-earners perform at work.

The research shows that more than 40% of people earning at least £100,000 have encountered domestic problems that were severe enough to significantly damage their productivity in the office.

The figure is roughly the same as the proportion of people who will encounter mental health problems in their lifetime.

But while most UK businesses invest in helping their employees prevent and manage mental health issues, almost nothing is being done to help them build better relationships at home.

Poor mental health was recently estimated by Deloitte to cost UK employers £33 billion to £42 billion every year.

Quite rightly, firms spend a lot of money trying to tackle it. They do it because it is the right thing to do for their staff and also because it improves their bottom line.

But these same firms are doing virtually nothing about something that also has a very serious impact on wellbeing and performance.

That this is happening with high-earners should be especially concerning for companies, because these people are very often employed in executive positions and make decisions that can have major implications for the business.”

What does the research say on workplace productivity and relationships?

The research on the damage that romantic problems at home does to workplace productivity was commissioned us, along with the Marriage Foundation and law firm Howard Kennedy.

It found that 70% of people earning more than £100,000 a year have had significant romantic relationship difficulties while in their current job or a similar role.

Some 60% of those high-earners who had encountered problems with a spouse or partner told researchers that the issues had damaged performance and productivity.

It means that slightly more than 40 per cent of people in the survey had performed poorly at work because of romantic problems.

That’s not acceptable. Companies need to be equipping people to help prevent these difficulties from happening or to deal with them better when they do.

How does the damage done by relationship trouble compare to the damage that poor mental health does to workplace productivity?

It’s not possible at this stage to say, definitively, that poor mental health costs the economy £X and relationship problems at work cost it £Y.

But what we can say is that the proportion of people who say their performance at work has been damaged by romantic relationship issues in the recent past is virtually the same as the proportion of people who will suffer from a diagnosable mental health problem in their entire lifetime.

The latest UK Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey found that 43.4% of adults felt they have had a diagnosable mental health condition at some point in their life.

It’s right that this issue is addressed, because the damage can be great.

But companies should also be investing in tackling a problem that is – purely in percentage terms – a comparable issue.

Do mental health issues damage your productivity more than problems caused by romantic relationship problems?

Common sense would tell you that fundamental and long-lasting mental health issues are going to damage workplace performance more than shorter-term relationship issues.

But that is not to say that these shorter-term relationship problems do not have a significant impact – and, very often, relationship problems are the actual trigger for the worsening of an underlying mental health issue.

Our point is that companies should continue to invest in the mental health of their staff because it is the right thing to do for all concerned.

But they should also be equipping their employees to deal better with romantic relationship issues.

It might not be quite as severe a problem as mental health, but it is still a problem that is having a significant effect on performance at work.

Do companies know that romantic relationship issues are damaging productivity at work?

More often than not, they do not know.

The YouGov report we commissioned found that most businesses were unaware of romantic relationship issues staff were having at home, with two-thirds of high-earners asked saying they had not informed their company of any difficulties.

We put this down to a combination of a desire for personal privacy, a feeling that it is not a “proper problem” and the fact that most companies did not have the expertise to help.

It’s clearly time for everyone to wake up to this and for companies to broaden the support they offer.

Should companies help people with relationship problems?

We understand that some people will be reluctant to talk about their personal life with their employer.

A lot of people are going to feel that it’s just not any of their company’s business.

But that’s not a reason for firms to shy away from this.

Most employees are wary of talking about their mental health, but we think society has come to accept that employers have a role to play in maintaining it.

Help with romantic relationships is, we believe, a logical and straightforward next step.

Research done in 2017 by the charity Time to Change found that just 13% of people felt comfortable talking about mental health issues at work, while more than twice that figure – 30% – were happy talking about serious romantic relationship issues.

It is quite clearly more of a taboo and seen as more intrusive for people to be asked to talk about their mental health than it is to talk about their romantic life. Yet companies ask people about their mental health all the time.

A few years down the line, we believe that all responsible businesses will be helping equip their staff to better deal with romantic issues at home.

There is no reason not to do it and I think we will all be asking ourselves why we didn’t do it earlier.

How do you help improve productivity at work?

We don’t have one tip for improving productivity at work – we have four!

These four habits allow people to strengthen or repair their romantic relationships and improve their performance in the workplace.

The 4 Habits for better performance at work are…

  • Be CURIOUS, not critical – which helps people get over the hurdle of frustration that comes from unmet expectations.
  • Be CAREFUL, not crushing – which helps people get over the hurdle of poor conflict resolution approaches and the damage they can cause in relationships.
  • ASK, don’t assume – which helps people get over the hurdle of frustration that comes from mistrust and disrespect that can creep into relationships over time.
  • CONNECT before you correct – which is all about getting better at communicating real value and appreciation, and holding back on that need to give “constructive feedback” that so many of us are all too good at! 
Relationship breakdown and the workplace - YouGov Research Report

Request a PDF copy of the Relationship Breakdown and the Workplace Report

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