Executive divorce affects family and the business

Many executives struggle with serious emotional issues, both personal and business-related, that – if left unchecked – will invariably affect their work performance.

Common personal crises include depression, drug and alcohol abuse and loss of a loved one. 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.

The most common personal stresses are family issues. These can include marital and relationship problems, issues with the children and personal health issues (including obesity, a disorder that is receiving increasing attention in the media and medical profession today).

But the family issue that places the executive 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 for most executives. But many people considering divorce don’t realize that, from the beginning, personal and business concerns will become mixed, with the final result that the business is affected as well.

For instance, money and property become central to the process, with company equity, stock options, retirement plans, homes and all other property being brought to the table to be divided. When children are involved, they are often placed in the middle, and alienation and other emotional difficulties can occur. And child support and alimony can leave the executive with less than half his or her income.

Unfortunately, many executives preparing for divorce simply don’t understand how quickly emotions on both sides can escalate; they therefore 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 even put them face-to-face with the courts — for instance, for ignoring a restraining (or protective) order.

When a restraining order or a change in custody is mandated, the litigant getting the short end (usually – but not always — the man) often finds himself completely confused. Unfortunately, these men often don’t heed their attorney’s advice. Defying court orders, they soon find themselves charged with contempt of court and are sometimes placed in jail. Divorce attorneys often call me in to counsel such executives.

Wage-earning spouses in the midst of divorce often find themselves at the lowest point of their lives, for reasons they rarely completely understand. They had no idea that the divorce process could lead to the loss of so much. In addition, 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.

A Creative Solution

This is just a small snapshot from the executive’s point of view. But what about the viewpoint from the workplace?

Once a successful, productive leader, the divorcing executive often has difficulty concentrating, thinking, organizing and, ultimately, leading. Frequently too preoccupied to think about work, productivity declines, as does the productivity of all the people working under him or her.

The effects of this personal crisis may not appear until many months after trouble has begun, resulting in lost opportunities that mean lost growth and income for the company. Once the problem has been identified, irrevocable damage may already have been done. Some executives even lose their jobs, which leads to increased financial and emotional difficulty. 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.

Is there a way to prevent an executive’s divorce and personal crisis from wreaking havoc on the company?

Early on, before the executive actually begins the divorce process, he and his (or her) superior should work together to identify the problem and obtain help for the executive. Hire a well-trained and highly experienced professional who can explain and 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 professional 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. Early support means fewer surprises later on for the executive and the business.

In the traditional medical model, the executive is a “patient” whose issues are pathologized with “diagnoses” and insurance-company “treatment plans.” “Sessions” are held on a regular schedule, usually once per week.

In the model I propose, the business and the executive are the client, though the executive’s confidentiality and needs remain the priority. The executive has regular access to the consultant/coach. Meetings or phone conversations occur as often as necessary. Effective stress management, communication skills, leadership skills and change management are essential areas for discussion. Innovative methods for performance enhancement that can also benefit other areas of one’s life (such as sales performance, personal satisfaction or one’s golf game) are used.

The consultant also may participate in meetings with co-workers or superiors to discuss current difficulties and strategies for improvement, as well as accompany the executive to attorney/client meetings

The sooner the crisis is resolved, the sooner the executive will be back to peak productivity. This means stability for the company, as well as the executive and his/her family.

Divorce is only one example of a common hurdle for executives. Through a comprehensive model of professional consultation and coaching, the goal is to minimize and overcome these potential barriers to professional success and personal enrichment – while at the same time saving the company lasting harm. nhbr

David J. Schopick, M.D., a board-certified child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist, is a consultant and coach to businesses in the areas of executives in crisis, improving stress management and communication skills in the workplace, change management and workplace violence-risk assessments. He has a private clinical practice in Portsmouth.

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