Divorce can have a surprisingly positive effect on performance at work, study finds: ‘I’ve been able to have a clear mind’

February 7, 2023, 12:08 PM UTC
Young woman surfing the web
Over a third of respondents in a study said going through a divorce had a positive impact on their performance at work.
Guido Mieth—Getty Images

The stress of going through a divorce has been ranked as almost equivalent to experiencing the death of a close friend or family member. So of course it’s going to impact how you perform at work. 

But for some people, that impact is actually positive, according to a new study

A new report, which is due to be published in scientific journal Personnel Psychology, analyzed the experiences of 542 people who were currently married or cohabitating, long divorced, recently divorced, or currently in the divorce process. 

Of those currently in the process of divorce, 44% said divorce had negatively impacted their career. More surprisingly, however, more than a third (39%) said that it had positively impacted their performance at work.

Those respondents who reported a positive impact said that they were more engaged at their job and more satisfied with their own performance. For them, divorce freed up time and energy, and even amplified motivation for work, the report said.  

The results of the study could have implications across a large swath of U.S. society. More than a third of Americans ages 25 to 65 have either divorced or are currently in the process, the study says. In 2021, there were 690,000 divorces or annulments in the U.S, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

How can divorce be positive?

“There is a societal assumption that divorce is always negative,” said Connie Wanberg, a coauthor on the study and professor at the University of Minnesota researching people’s experiences in the workplace. 

“Some of these individuals had been in very dysfunctional relationships, and getting away from that relationship allowed them to have a new outlook on life. Some people decided to renew their focus on work and focus on advancement.”

Reflecting Wanberg’s comments, one respondent in the study said, “Prior to the divorce, I spent a lot of time and energy trying to maintain and fix the relationship, and that took away from work.”

Another person said, “Due to the pressure being gone from the degrading relationship, I’ve been able to have a clear mind for work.” 

Wanberg acknowledged that divorce does make life incredibly difficult: “You have to move or navigate division of belongings,” she said. “You have to tell friends and family. You have to visit a lawyer, sometimes multiple times. These can all impact your feelings at work.”

Despite this, however, for some people these are all “overweighed by the benefits of getting away from a bad relationship.”

While divorce is a common and impactful life event, the study states says very little research has been done in relation to how it affects the individual at work on a psychological level and more broadly. Instead, it says, previous reports have disproportionately focused on the effect on hours, wages, and disability leave. 

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