What's your problem?

When should we tell our staff we're getting a divorce?

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 06 Dec 2010

Q: My husband and I work together on a business we founded more than 15 years ago. We have recently run into some marital problems and at this point it's looking like we're heading for a divorce. It's obviously an incredibly difficult time and I don't want to share my personal life with the world, but at what point should we disclose the news to the staff?

A: Your main aim must be to minimise speculation and uncertainty. When rife among staff, they can be dangerously distracting. However hard you've tried to conceal it, it's extremely unlikely that the deteriorating personal relationship between you and your husband has gone unnoticed - so the sooner you can make everything clear, the better.

But all that's dependent on your intentions. When you say: 'It's looking like we're heading for a divorce', it doesn't sound very decisive. And if you do divorce, are you both intending to keep on running the business you founded? And, if so, are you reasonably confident that you can keep your private life from affecting your office life? All this you need to talk through with your husband; and you need to do so with hard-headed realism.

This may seem more than a little unsympathetic. The break-up of your marriage after such a long time must be deeply upsetting. But if your staff have well-founded reasons for believing that you and your husband are using the company as some sort of competitive battleground - always trying to score points off each other and undermine the other's authority - then you'll very quickly lose not only your marriage but your business as well.

When you do decide to talk to your staff, do it together. Don't appeal for sympathy; don't dwell on the reasons for the breakdown; show obvious respect for each other; keep it simple and practical; and let your staff know of your trust in them and of your appreciation.

If you rehearse this statement together, privately, it will help you understand what you're committing yourself to and whether you can deliver it. If you can't, you'll need to think again.

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