My Blog

My blog is meant to inform but its primary purpose is not to be informative. It is about the law but it is not solely about the law but also about those places the law does not go. The law is the platform from which I dive. My blog is about my opinions but is not primarily about my opinions since I often temper these to the subject matter on hand, not to mention the imagined audience. Quite often when I open a subject which is related to the law for discussion, I find myself in a place I never meant to be, or to go, as if the subject takes on a life of its own. I write articles based on what I do for a living, and I am a family lawyer, but of course that is not all I am. I find that when I engage with a subject, and use writing to express my thoughts, that quite often the journey is more interesting than the end and that what I thought I was writing about is not what I wrote about at all. This seems to me to be a metaphor for life. I write, therefore, to throw some light into the dark, to increase my understanding and by extension hopefully, other people’s understanding of what often seems incomprehensible, to enliven the dull so my spirit does not sag and to throw some humour at what is often deeply sad so that I can, or maybe, dare I say hopefully, “we”, can gain perspective. I doubt I succeed but the effort is honest.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Happy Employees - dedicated workers

It seems obvious to me that employers, particularly those in large companies, should invest in the health and wellbeing of their staff. The most valuable asset a company has is its staff. Employees are the backbone of the company. Many employers spend years putting together the right team and then invest very little time and energy in nurturing that resource. Everyone recognizes that employee morale is key to the productivity of a company but most employers do little to encourage morale. Even in good times, this is quite often the case so in these recessionary times it is even more likely to be so. I am not talking about office picnics, survival weekends and Christmas parties. These events cost a lot of money and I am not sure they yield much satisfaction to either employer or employee. Who actually likes these events? Is there anything more distressing than watching people with whom you would not normally socialise, getting drunk and making idiots of themselves and that is always assuming that it is not me making the fool of myself which is truly the most awful thought of all. Everyone seems to suffer from nerves of one sort or another on these occasions which makes one either drink too much and decide to tell a colleague the truth about something or make a pass at someone wildly inappropriate. Even if you don’t drink at all you can’t win as you will be perceived as uptight or a snob or worse. Survival weekends – don’t get me started on those! Are there ways that employers can look after their employee’s health and wellbeing without costing an arm and a leg and without engaging in enforced jollification?
One life event which many employees go through and which will impact on their productivity severely is marital breakdown. Personal or family health issues, death of family members, financial stresses, child issues and moving house are among the other predictable life issues which will occur. Employers can offer help and guidance in all of these situations without prying unduly and without taking over someone’s decision making capacities. By having information days and/or evenings for employees in general which deal with all of the above, employers demonstrate a commitment to the wellbeing of their staff. There are a number of ways that information can be packaged and delivered to staff depending on the company circumstances. One is to have an information evening once a month where different topics are scheduled enabling staff to hear about a number of important issues that will arise for them or their colleagues at some point in their working lives. Such meetings can be scheduled for lunch time or for early evening. Another way is to ensure that HR staff are fully conversant with all of the issues and research and have all the information to hand that staff may require. If there is an in house magazine or news letter then a series of articles on various topics in an informed way might be another way of getting information out there. Costs can be kept to a minimum and platforms can be shared by a number of professionals from different firms and backgrounds ensuring that it is about information and not advertising.
Divorce is ranked as the second most stressful event that a person can experience in their lifetime, second only to the death of a spouse. Divorce rates, not too surprisingly, tend to be at their highest in populated areas. Since industries and large employers tend to situate themselves in populated areas, the issue of marital breakdown is one that should concern employers. As well as the, understandable, trauma of the person experiencing the divorce first hand, it is important to reflect on the fact that divorce will impact on everyone who comes within its radius. For example, it is important to be aware that the effects of divorce-related stress are multiplied in the employee by the echo of that stress in his/her children and extended family. Also, of course, as well as an employee going through a separation/divorce, the children of divorcing parents can also be employees as can extended family all of whom will be affected. The effects of divorce as well as short term productivity impairment can also be long term depression , poor health, and in some cases suicide or premature death. In addition, employers need to be aware from a health and safety point of view as well as just staff care, of the increased risk of substance abuse before, during and after divorce. Some studies suggest that men are more detrimentally affected by divorce than women. My own experience as a family law specialist dealing over the years with men and women would be that women go through the emotional trauma of the separation while they are going through it legally and financially and that men defer the emotional aspects of it. Generally, I think men are better are compartmentalising emotional matters than women. I cannot offer an explanation for this but men seem to be able to shut things off more effectively. Over the years I have noticed this. I have often envied this capacity. However, I think, that like everything it has a good and bad side. By allowing their feelings to be part of the process of separating and divorcing women deal with their emotions at a time when their friends and family are available to help them process. Men, on the other hand, bottle up their feelings and get on with the business on hand. It is only after the event, sometimes years after the event, that the emotions will surface. Generally, because men are not used to discussing emotional or personal matters they will find it extremely difficult to enter into conversation about their circumstances with their friends. This difficulty is compounded by the fact that for people outside the situation it will be yesterday’s event and will not be present to their consciousness. Therefore, it is my experience and one that seems to be borne out by the studies, that men continue to bottle up their emotions until they result in ill health or depression. In the studies I have read, it is argued that the reason why men do worse than women in separation is the difference in how men and women interact in society. Male friendships tend to be about someone to hang around with and women’s friendships tend to be about sharing feelings. In Irish society, man men, in particular, will base their social interactions around their marriage that is socialising with other couples mostly at the instigation of their wives. As a result, when the marriage breaks down, men not only lose the company of their wives, they will also quite often lose practically their whole social network. In tandem with this, women will most often have custody of the children after the marriage breaks down so men lose their role within the family and quite often they have to completely alter the way they interact with their children as well. When you combine all this, your average divorced man is a pretty lonely, confused figure. Employers need to be very aware of all this as do work mates and indeed people experiencing divorce themselves first hand.
But apart from how recent research and experience can assist employers in dealing with employees compassionately, information can also be given to the employees to assist them in dealing with the reality of separation and divorce. I have found that being able to educate parents in what to expect from their children depending on their ages and what to watch out for is enormously helpful to them. Tips on parenting post separation are also hugely helpful to parents trying to cope with child issues arising and their own trauma at the same time. General talks on solicitors, who we are, what we do, what to expect and not to expect, what is the nature of your relationship with your solicitor and so forth are all very useful for people in sorting through that first very confused and confusing stage of marital breakdown. Talks on the different legal options available for couples separating can also be very informative and enlightening. There are now four distinct ways to deal with separation, separation by agreement but under the adversarial system, separation by collaboration, separation by mediation and separation by application to court. There are also some hybrids of these. Finding the right way for you is crucial and then matching that up with the right professional/s is a further skill and there is plenty of help to guide people in that.

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