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Personal Relationships Biggest Cause Of Employee Distress

03 July 2018

Personal Relationships Biggest Cause Of Employee Distress



Distress linked to the state of their personal relationships caused more employees to lift up the phone and contact us for emotional support than any other issue in the year to March 2018.

In total, over a quarter of all calls (28.6%) were linked to family arguments and the breakdown of personal relationships. Making this the biggest cause of employee concern, slightly ahead of mental health issues, which was the primary concern for 27.9% of callers.

The data highlights the extent to which employees crave and want positive relationships, but struggle to achieve this. 

So for any employer keen to boost emotional wellbeing across their workplace, helping people to avoid family arguments and keep their relationships stable is now every bit as important as mental health education.

But where should you start when it comes to supporting them?


Three ways to help employees cope with family issues


1. Prepare them to avoid arguments

One thing you can do as part of your wellbeing programme is to provide free materials on how to devise a coping strategy before meeting up with family.

If someone knows their sibling will get a rise out of them, their mother-in-law will set about controlling or belittling them or the same old arguments are almost inevitably set to arise, it can be very helpful to encourage them to anticipate what might happen and how to cope in advance.

In many cases, it might be that they themselves need to let go of an old grudge or rivalry to move on. By directing them to materials that help them to reflect on what always happens, their role in maybe contributing to this and things they can do differently, you can maybe help them to prevent distressing arguments from occurring.

In the event that there is a big fall out, as little as one conversation with a counsellor at the end of the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) can help them to reflect on and share their hurts with someone independent, to help them make sense of this and devise a better way of handling the situation going forward.


2. Build emotional resilience

Our ability to take the heat out of situations and prevent ourselves from falling into an argument with someone is greatly defined by how we handle pressure. 

This in turn is influenced by our resilience, our ability to experience events, but not become personally damaged or distressed by them.

By providing employees with resilience training, to help them stay healthy under pressure, you can also help them to keep perspective when dealing with challenging relatives, or family situations.

Effective resilience training includes encouraging employees to:

  • Maintain perspective by regularly taking time out by themselves to connect with and identify what matters to them
  • Understand their stress signals and take positive action to distress, such as doing an activity that gives them joy or reconnecting with nature
  • Take good physical care of themselves, by eating well, getting enough sleep and exercising so they don’t become emotionally fraught
  • Be their own best friend, by exercising self-compassion and viewing setbacks as learning opportunities, instead of beating themselves up
  • Identify supportive people, or resources, that they can turn to during stressful times
  • Keep a gratitude journal and take note of three positive things each day, or in each situation, to help them stay positive and resilient


3. Support those estranged from family

Even when an employee has learned to manage their emotions, be clear about what is and isn’t acceptable to them and still meet others halfway, family relationships can still implode.

Sibling rivalries, repeatedly clashing views and interference from others – not to mention emotional or physical abuse – can still cause a family relationship to become unsustainable. Either because repeated arguments cause individual family members to become estranged or because someone has had to take the difficult decision to remove themselves from an emotionally damaging person or situation.

Although society tells us that ‘blood is thicker than water’, and family relationships can’t be replaced, there are still occasions when everyone involved could benefit from taking some time apart from each other: either to get their perspective back, or because the relationship can’t be made healthy.

In the event that someone becomes estranged from their family, they might feel too embarrassed or ashamed to admit this to colleagues, or even their boss, opting instead to lie about how they’re spending Christmas or Easter and forcing themselves to carry the burden all alone.

Given the prevalence of family breakdown, it’s almost inevitable that your organisation has several employees who are struggling to cope with family issues, or who have even become estranged from family members, so make sure everyone is made aware of any confidential support services in place, such as the EAP or relevant charity helplines.


If you would like to find out more about the many issues an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) could be supporting your workforce with, please drop us a note

[email protected]