Getting divorced is often considered one of the most stressful life events. But, for some people, there could be an unintended positive outcome to splitting up: A boost in their work performance.
In a study of people in the process of divorce, which is online in advance of publication in the scientific journal Personnel Psychology, nearly 39% of respondents said parting with their spouse positively affected their work. Around 44% of respondents, meanwhile, said divorce had a negative impact on their career.
The fact that more than a third of people found divorce led them to perform better at their jobs came as a surprise to study co-author Connie Wanberg, a professor at the University of Minnesota who researches people’s experiences in the workplace.
“There is a societal assumption that divorce is always negative,” Wanberg said. But, she said, “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.”
In 2021, there were close to 690,000 divorces or annulments in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Over a third of Americans between the ages of 25 and 65 have divorced or are currently in the process of divorcing, according to the study by Wanberg and her co-authors.
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Specifically, the respondents who reported positive impacts at work said that after going their own way from their partner they were more engaged at their jobs and more satisfied with their own performance.
One person 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.”
“Due to the pressure being gone from the degrading relationship, I’ve been able to have a clear mind for work,” another respondent said.
Carolyn McClanahan, a certified financial planner and the founder of Life Planning Partners in Jacksonville, Florida, said she wasn’t surprised by the study’s results. She’s had clients who were in a much better state of mind following a divorce.
“People in unhealthy relationships often have unhealthy behaviors to help them deal with the relationship issues,” said McClanahan, who is also a member of the CNBC Advisor Council. “Workplace performance might definitely suffer.”
Divorce involves many unpleasant experiences and stressful steps, Wanberg said.
“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.”
But for some people, these difficulties, Wanberg said, “are overweighed by the benefits of getting away from a bad relationship.”