If you are the sort who always has a shoulder for friends to cry on, you may be one of the first to be told that there’s a divorce in the office. Even if you never discuss personal matters at work, it’s hard for divorce to be kept out of conversation. Either way, the question is: how do you handle it?
Gossip and Its Pitfalls
The main rule for your own job security should be to keep it to yourself. You don’t want to engage in gossip, and you sure don’t want your work chats or emails to include the gossip.
Refusing to gossip isn’t just being kind, although that’s the best reason. Saying the wrong thing while gossiping could jeopardize your own standing in the office. Other employees may love the gossip, but bosses may see lawsuits brewing, and you may lose your job or be put on notice.
Whether repeating what your coworker said or commenting on your concerns, you could damage your coworker’s job and reputation. That’s a good enough reason to keep things to yourself. You don’t want to see someone lose their income in the middle of a traumatic divorce.
Most of us know that we should keep quiet, but even the best of us will break this rule for the best of reasons. We may be really worried about our coworker. We want to help them find a good divorce lawyer. Perhaps he seems like he is a danger to himself. She’s drinking heavily or talking about suicide. These are all reasons to get help, but you should tread carefully when it comes to involving coworkers or the boss.
You may see a divorcing person as someone who should be treated with kid gloves. Unfortunately there will be others in the office who won’t make allowances and who may make the situation worse. Furthermore, you can never guess how a boss would react if, in an effort to protect your friend, you reveal that they are going through a divorce. Even a best friend might be angry if you tell the boss about their divorce. So that’s a lose-lose scenario.
Appropriate Comfort and Support
If you want to be supportive of a coworker going through a divorce, you can find out ways to help them at work. Simply say, “I sense you are stressed, and I am wondering if there are ways I could assist you until the stress lets up.”
The word may be out, and you may see that the boss is making allowances. In that case, you can take the initiative and suggest to your boss how you may take some of the coworker’s burden temporarily.
During the drama of a divorce, the difference between friends and colleagues is a very important one. You may have tons of sympathy for a colleague, but it may be a mistake to encourage them to open up. Divorce brings out many unhappy thoughts and inappropriate reactions. It may be best if you don’t put yourself in an awkward situation with someone you only know professionally.
For true friends, rather than just colleagues, your most important role may be as a listener. However, you want to keep your conversations private, meeting away from the office if that is appropriate. There may be delicate issues that arise that really need to be discussed with a doctor, an accountant, a therapist or a lawyer. When that happens, be ready with ideas and encourage your friend to get appropriate help.
Your actions and reactions to your divorcing coworker could have repercussions for you and for them. Choose your words carefully and stay away from idle gossip and office politics.