Marlene is a 57-year-old account executive for a national food distributor. She’s been with the company for 20 years, and in that time she’s experienced a lot of changes, but nothing like what’s been happening over the last few years. A majority of the workforce is under 35, automated operations have replaced many of her friends at the company, and she’s paying more for healthcare than ever before. She’s also going through a terrible divorce.
Marlene is not a real person, but unfortunately the situation is very real. Older generations are simultaneously adapting to changes in both their professional and personal lives that go largely unnoticed by the leaders and managers they work with. The rate of divorce for people 55 and over, for instance, is on the rise, more than doubling since 2017, according to a Wall Street Journal report. Joe McCabe, a vice chairman at Korn Ferry specializing in human resources, says that despite the focus organizations have put on the correlation between wellness and performance, not enough is being done for older workers going through a generational squeeze.
“Divorce is a shock to the system, in some cases almost as traumatic as death,” says McCabe. “The old notion of keeping your personal and work life separate isn’t viable for older workers who are often also taking care of their kids and their parents.”
To be sure, it used to be that when you got to work, you left your personal life at the door. Now, an employee’s personal life is practically embedded in their work life. Organizations offer employees everything from gym memberships and mental health assistance to child care facilities and even sleep counseling to keep their talent performing at the highest level. Human resources departments use data analytics to track performance and segment employee populations to come up with all kinds of assistance programs that relate to issues they are seeing with their workforce. McCabe says the generational dynamics at play in divorce rates could help organizations develop wellness programs that still respect the boundary between work and home.
Studies have shown that divorce can negatively impact performance — hedge fund managers doing through a divorce generate worse returns, for instance. George Atkinson, senior client partner and a member of Korn Ferry’s global human resources center of excellence, says leaders need to have the emotional intelligence to recognize when employees are going through a tough time and provide them with both the leeway and resources to work through it.
“It comes back to increased transparency and being comfortable having a much more open dialogue,” says Atkinson.