Domestic abuse, you might wonder what it has to do with the workplace. We come to work and leave home at home, right? Whilst there may be occasions where work is a distraction and two thirds of those who have experienced domestic abuse say they feel safer at work, there is no getting away from the impact of domestic abuse on the workplace.
How does domestic abuse impact the workplace?
1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men (ONS, 2019) will experience domestic abuse at some point in their lives, 30-40% of victims will be in employment at some point in their lives. 50% of victims reported the abuse impacting their self-esteem and confidence, this will impact productivity and 1 in 2 said that domestic abuse affected their work colleagues (research by Vodafone Foundation and Opinium, 2019).
In addition to lower productivity from an employee whose confidence is wounded, patterns of lateness and increased absence are likely as the victim either attempts to cover up injuries or is prevented from working by their abuser. It’s not just the physical injuries, psychological abuse will impact mental health and physical health, living in a stressful situation will impact the body physically.
Many victims are targeted at work as their abusers know where they are, colleagues may unwittingly enable abuse believing they’re helping a partner to be romantic.
Someone who is attached to their phone may be the victim of abuse, fearing missing a call or message from their abuser who will punish them for it later. This person may also be distracted, potentially even frightened, they may avoid conflict or avoid close connections with others.
The impact of behaviours like lateness, absence and mobile phone use quickly spreads. Resentment can build as others feel the effects of an absent colleague, they may decide they will also be late, absent or use their phone. Management time is spent attempting to resolve or more often discipline. There is a real risk of reputational damage, particularly if customers are impacted or the workplace becomes filled with resentment and unresolved unhealthy behaviours. The rise of working from home and lockdown in 2020 has seen increased incidents of domestic abuse reported. Whilst home was meant to be a safe place, for many they have lost the safety of their workplace and lost private access to colleagues. It is not just a risk to the individual of being at home but also a risk of security breaches as an abuser could use access to company equipment or systems.
What can employers do?
The good news is there are things employers can do and those things will have wider benefits than simply helping those experiencing domestic abuse.
The first stage is raising awareness. Provide training, have open conversations, recognise what happens at home may impact work. Alpha Vesta provides free awareness training, a great resource and fully funded.
An open, non-judgemental culture will have far reaching benefits. Encourage people to talk, give people space to speak openly. If someone is having a bad day, let them say it - recognise we’re all only human. This will encourage people to be open and honest about what might be impacting their performance or attendance at work. When people speak we’re able to help. We can reduce the time going through cycles of disciplinary procedures by finding out the underlying cause and working together to resolve it. All employees will be more engaged which will improve performance, reduce absence and lower turnover.
Understand the risks and how to handle a situation where you suspect or are told about domestic abuse. You cannot steam in and solve it, you might think “why doesn’t she just leave” - this is complex, there are many reasons people don’t leave abusive relationships. Many victims don’t have the financial freedom to just leave and there isn’t places for many to go. Leaving an abusive relationship can be extremely dangerous, abuse can increase significantly when someone tries to leave. It can be hard to understand a victim who wants to placate their abuser, they know their abuser well and they know what they need to do to keep themselves safe - this might look like unwise decisions to those not in the situation. Training will help you and your employees understand these risks in more detail and how to handle situations.
There are many specific actions employers can take to help a victim, there may even be occasions where work is the only place someone can talk and access help. Exactly what those actions are will be specific to the individual situation, what helps one person may hinder another. Work with the individual rather than making judgements and trying to resolve it for them.
The impact of domestic abuse on the workplace is far reaching. Having a positive policy on domestic abuse and an open culture may go far further than reducing the risks to your business - it may save someone’s life! Whilst you’re doing that, you will see benefits of reduced disciplinaries, improved productivity and reduced absence.
Start today by signing up to a free Alpha Vesta awareness webinar!
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Article last updated: 16 September 2020
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