To tie in with this year’s International Women’s Day, we consider why understanding the dynamics of domestic abuse is so important in the workplace.
We look at the business case, provide some helpful resources, and highlight why awareness training can be the catalyst for actions to help create a safe and supportive workplace for anyone experiencing domestic abuse.
Due to the nature of domestic abuse, it is hard to objectively quantify how many people are affected by it. Recent data published in November 2022 by the Office for National Statistics includes an estimate from The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) that
“5.0% of adults (6.9% women and 3.0% men) aged 16 years and over experienced domestic abuse in the year ending March 2022; this equates to an estimated 2.4 million adults (1.7 million women and 699,000 men).”
Figures are too easy to gloss over ... let’s allow those numbers to sink in ... almost two and a half million people, not in the UK but just in England and Wales, with their own lived experience of domestic abuse within the past twelve months. That’s roughly twice the population of Birmingham, Britain’s second largest city.
And yet we know domestic abuse crime is underreported so these figures won’t tell the whole story. Add facts such as that, on average, victims will suffer 50 incidents of abuse before getting effective help , and the staggering increases reported regarding calls to helplines and visits to aid websites during the pandemic lockdowns.
The picture which develops would suggest that domestic abuse is far more common than many acknowledge. It brings it closer to home and raises the question, could there be someone in our own workplace who is silently suffering, or conversely be a perpetrator? How would we know?
The Business Case for Why Domestic Abuse is a Workplace Issue
It may sound hardnosed to state that the effects of domestic abuse can be felt in the workplace in terms of financial output. To back that up with some figures, the results of a study conducted for Vodafone by KPMG in 2019 found that, “£316m in economic output is lost by UK businesses each year as a result of work absences related to domestic abuse”. Back in 2016/17 the estimated yearly cost in lost output per employee suffering domestic abuse in England and Wales was £7,245.
A few examples of this lost output might include decreased productivity, presenteeism, unplanned absence or poor timekeeping. It could ultimately result in the expense of going down the disciplinary route if important signs are missed and the real cause of such issues never uncovered. In a worst-case scenario it could include the costs to the organisation of losing a good employee and having to recruit and train their replacement.
On a wider scale, workplace morale can be affected. Take the example of colleagues regularly being asked to cover at short notice with no explanation. Added stress and feelings of unfairness can creep in with the resulting concerns to productivity and staff turnover. Colleagues and managers may also be affected emotionally.
Offering support to staff who are experiencing or who have experienced domestic abuse demonstrates good management practice and that an employer takes their duty of care to provide a safe and effective work environment seriously.
In the mental health debate, bringing our whole self to work is a key aim. If employees can share with others that their organisation authentically supports all their employees in what they bring to the workplace, a positive reputation will result which provides an attractive consideration for good employees in a competitive market.
If a member of staff or colleague confided they were suffering domestic abuse, would you know how to react?
A Government review of workplace support for victims of domestic abuse found that,
" ... while many employers want their staff to thrive, line managers and HR professionals can lack the confidence to know what to do in relation to domestic abuse and may not be able to respond appropriately."
This is totally understandable, and it is where training facilitated by a subject expert can prove to be an important first step to creating awareness and building confidence and knowledge of how to act.
As each organisation is unique, the exact training course delivered can be flexible in length and content so that the focus is correct. Consultancy around policy development is also an option either as a standalone service or in conjunction with training.
Bal Howard is an inspiring expert on domestic abuse and delivers both our training and consultancy on the subject. She regularly receives glowing reviews about the empathy and passion with which she engages learners, and perhaps more importantly inspires them to make a difference in their workplace.
"What a brilliant course that has taught me so much. You are a truly inspirational trainer - I have so much more hope for other victims now that we can help them."
It is said that we all have a collective responsibility to tackle domestic violence, let’s not put off until tomorrow simple and low-cost actions in the workplace that we can take today.
Some helpful workplace resources
Domestic Abuse: A toolkit for employers
Updated in 2021 to take account of the Domestic Abuse Act, Business in the Community (BITC) have produced this toolkit to help organisations meet their duty of care to provide a safe and effective working environment and contribute to tackling domestic abuse.
Domestic Abuse: Recognise the Signs
This page on the Government website offers guidance on recognising domestic abuse in a relationship and tips to support a friend if they are being abused.
Managing and supporting employees experiencing domestic abuse
Guidance for employers from the CIPD which has been produced with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). Its aim is to encourage more employers to take an active supporting role and includes practical recommendations of how this can be done.
Responding to colleagues experiencing domestic abuse
Produced by the Department of Health and Safelives, practical guidance for line managers, human resources and employee assistance programmes.
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