Employers need to be ‘actively vigilant’ against the strain which career progression can place on people’s personal relationships, or risk seeing their workplace performance undermined too.
That is the conclusion of new research – commissioned by law firm Howard Kennedy, and designed alongside relationship educators Soulmates Academy and thinktanks Marriage Foundation and Relationships Foundation – which found many companies are blind to the serious risk posed by the strained homelife of their most valuable employees.
A survey of more than 500 high-earners found 69% had suffered significant relationship difficulties in their current or similar role, with 65% of respondents holding either a senior manager or director position or being a company owner. This contrasts with the general population, of which just 20% has suffered from similar relationship issues as a result of work.
For these career-minded individuals there is a direct correlation between managing the work/life balance and strained relationships, with 38% attributing work pressure as the most significant reason for past relationship issues.
Indeed, 50% think the stressful nature of their jobs affected their relationship, 46% attribute it to long working hours and 38% thought it was caused by spending time away from home.
They also find it hard to keep the issues at home and so the impact extends the other way too.
Some 71% of these high-earners believe personal relationship issues had a major impact on their performance.
This manifests itself in a number of ways; most notably 62% admitted it meant they were more distracted and less productive at work and 12% missed deadlines and targets, 32% said they were less able to control their emotions in the office and 38% were less able to participate in everything required for their role such as travel, networking or overtime.
For some it had a substantial impact on their careers, 14% admitted to needing to take time off, whilst 6% felt they had lost out on promotions, and most significantly, 6% lost their jobs.
Dr Andrea Taylor-Cummings, Co-Founder at Soulmates Academy, said: “The 62% of lost productivity should be a real wake-up call for companies, especially as it relates to their most senior decision-makers.
“We advocate that small behavioural changes around four fundamental habits can have significant impact on interpersonal relationships; be curious and not critical about differences, be careful and not crushing in conflict situations, ask rather than assume the other person’s perspective and take time to connect before you correct people.
“Developing relational competence around ‘The 4 Habits’ will strengthen relationships and help senior leaders manage the inevitable home/work tensions more successfully.”
Despite a clear impact on performance and the workplace, only 35% of respondents told the employer what was happening at home.
And of those that did, they got a mixed response: 48% of employers did nothing, 33% offered time off and 13% offered access to counselling.
Lois Langton, Head of Family Law and Partner at Howard Kennedy, said: “My work has shown me first-hand how this tension can affect home life and put relationships under strain, especially given the increasingly blurred line between working and personal time.
“This can lead to divorce and breakups which can be all-consuming, draining emotions, finances and time, but it doesn’t have to go that far for the impact to be felt in the workplace.
“It’s important to set boundaries, and responsibility cannot be placed solely on the employer. Individuals must decide what a healthy balance of work life and personal life looks like for them and their relationships.”
Jane Amphlett, Head of Employment and Partner at Howard Kennedy, said: “HR teams already put together comprehensive programmes for their senior staff, but equipping them to manage personal relationships seems to be a blind spot.
“By demonstrating understanding, flexibility and promoting employee assistance programmes, they will benefit from improved performance, but prevention is better than cure in these situations, and equipping people to better manage the two conflicting pressures on their time is important for the wellbeing of both the individual and company.”
Sir Paul Coleridge, Founder of Marriage Foundation, says companies need to learn from these findings or risk consequences.
He said: “To have a leading law firm sponsor original and important research into this aspect of relationship breakdown is a very welcome development.
“There are many lessons to be drawn from its findings. Perhaps the standout conclusion must be that the Faustian pact whereby employers seek to drive ever-higher performance by constantly ratcheting up the targets and bonuses of their high performing employees is in danger of being self-defeating if couple relationships and home life are adversely affected.
“Then performance turns down and it becomes yet another example of the law of diminishing returns. Employers need to be actively vigilant and alive to the risks.”