Rylan 'broke down' at work after divorce – should we all get compassionate leave for break-ups?

·5-min read

Watch: Rylan Clarke-Neal sparks marriage reconciliation rumours

When a close family member or partner dies, it's acknowledged to be life changing. The bereaved are routinely offered time off work to help them recover emotionally – and recently there have even been calls for employers to offer the same when a beloved pet dies.

But when it comes to the life-changing trauma of break-up and divorce, most companies simply expect employees to put on a happy face and keep busy through the heartbreak.

This week, it was revealed that much-loved presenter Rylan Clarke-Neal was forced to take time off from his TV and radio work after a painful break-up with Dan, his husband of six years, in July.

After crying during a song he was playing on his Radio 2 show, BBC bosses offered him time away. 

‘Rylan’s one of the BBC’s favourite stars,’ an insider said. ‘When he returned to work everyone supported him but when he broke down, people were concerned he’d come back too fast."

Rylan was in agreement and took time away. He has recently returned, seemingly happier.

Most of us, however, are not in a position to do that. While some might go to therapy and confide in friends, most drag themselves out of their newly empty bed and head for the desk, no matter how miserable and bereft they might feel.

Rylan took time out and now feels better. (BBC)
Rylan took time out and now feels better. (BBC)

But are we expecting too much of ourselves in the midst of emotional trauma?

Psychotherapist Rachael Turner says: "Healing after a significant event is very much an individual thing. One person might use distraction as a coping style, so going back to work might be the most helpful approach to dealing with their situation.

"The brain takes approximately 12 weeks to process a significant event," she adds. "So someone else might need to take some time to process the 'trauma' and consequently might find returning to work overwhelming or emotionally impossible.

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"In either scenario, it's key to acknowledge one's feelings and to be kind to oneself. Accessing support from friends, or from a therapist would be hugely beneficial."

A painful or sudden split can be completely destabilising, agrees therapist Olivia James.

"A bad breakup can be genuinely traumatic. You need to manage your own reactions and friends and family may inundate you with bad advice and judgments," she explains. 

When it comes to confiding in colleagues, "other people can be very insensitive, so be discerning about how much detail you give people.

Tired businessman working late on laptop while sitting at illuminated desk in office
If you're struggling, let your boss know what's going on. (Getty Images)

"Beware of well-meaning friends: 'He was a loser, you're better off without him.' 'You should get back out there now babes, you're not getting any younger.' 'Plenty more fish in the sea'."

When you have gone through shock and heartbreak, adds James. "You need time to grieve. You could say: 'I'm dealing with a breakup but I don't need unsolicited advice. What I do need is for you to make me tea and send me funny cat videos.'

"Most people want to help, they just don't know how."

Read more: As Jamie Redknapp remarries, how do you move on from an ex you still love?

Lack of sleep will also affect work performance, and with insomnia often a direct result of a break-up, if you're lying awake half the night, it's worth speaking to your boss to explain.

"Sleep will be affected. When our confidence has been knocked, our cognitive functioning can suffer," says James. "You may need to take time off work, as you will not be at your best."

It may be possible to take compassionate leave, or be signed off with stress – but if it's your own business, or you can't take more time off, unpaid holiday is one option, to give you a chance to tackle the break-up issues that need resolving, without distraction. 

If you can't function at work, take unpaid leave if possible. (Getty Images)
If you can't function at work, take unpaid leave if possible. (Getty Images)

If getting into the right mindset to work is proving impossible, she adds. "You may need to work through this with a therapist. I'd always get a personal recommendation so you get a therapist who is equipped to deal with your individual situation."

Much of how people respond is related to the reasons for the break up, James adds. A gentle drifting apart and an amicable split may be sad but it's unlikely to affect your work life dramatically. 

But discovery of an affair, lies or broken trust can be profoundly difficult to process.

"Betrayal trauma shakes us to our core," she says. "We exist in relation to others, a severe betrayal like cheating or abandonment can destabilise us."

African American mental health professional communicating with a man and writing notes during a therapy.
Seeing a therapist could be the best thing you can do to get back on track. (Getty Images)

What to do if your break-up is affecting your work

1 Talk to your boss. Let them know what's happening in your personal life – the chances are they'll sympathise and may allow you to work part-time or take unscheduled holiday. 

2 Don't feel you have to tell everyone. If colleagues are supportive, great. But if they're just there for the gossip, don't indulge them. Say "I find it easier just to avoid the subject during work time."

3 Make sure you have plenty of support outside of work, through family, friends, and ideally, a therapist, who can support you and offer objective insight. 

4 If your grief or insomnia is ongoing, talk to your GP about ways to cope, including therapy, antidepressants or sleeping aids.

5 Sometimes a trauma can shake up everything else and you may decide your job is no longer right for you. Give it six months before you make any life-changing decisions. 

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