The marks of domestic violence in the workplace (Part 2)
By: Dr. Helen Ofosu
The marks of domestic violence in the workplace (Part 2)
Last week’s blog post was inspired by a real story that was very disturbing to discuss since it relates to domestic violence.
Someone I know asked me for advice about a delicate HR matter, one that required my complete discretion. He insisted that we meet in his car because he was that concerned about keeping what he was about to say confidential. He went on to describe how one of his employees had been forced into sex trafficking. Although she maintained the image of a normal, capable, woman in the office by day, she was being manipulated through intimidation and physical threats to sell her body at night. This was why she was having so many missed days of work and also the result of her decreased productivity.
Unlike another victim who might limp into work with visible bruises, the marks of this woman’s abuse went relatively unnoticed. Less obvious signs were her lack of concentration, her reduced work efficiency, chronic tardiness, and some absenteeism. The effect of the darker aspects of her personal life was further victimizing her. Her job was at risk due to attendance and performance problems. Listening to my associate recount this woman’s ordeal I heard him say “I couldn’t believe she was going through all of that abuse. I just thought she was being inattentive at work.” My contact didn’t say this to be insensitive. He, like so many others who hear stories about domestic violence, found it difficult to understand how anyone could hide that level of abuse so effectively. Sadly, it happens all the time. And, I advised him to believe her no matter how far-fetched the situation seemed because the alternative was much too dangerous to ignore.
I also gave him some resources to share with her, as well as to direct her towards organizations that could help her get out of that relationship and situation safely (those same resources are included at the bottom of this article). Since it was tough to see what she’d be getting out of making up the story I also recommended that he validate her experience. Victims report that one of the most difficult consequences of their abuse is wondering if they will be believed.
“Friends ask you questions; enemies question you” – Criss Jami, Healology
Part of why I thought it was appropriate to address this topic is because the person who sought me out works in an organization that has a Human Resources (HR) department … yet he still chose to speak to me instead. I don’t know if he chose me because he didn’t think he’d get adequate support from his workplace or if he chose me because he knows that I’d help him with extreme discretion.
Issues like domestic violence are extremely complex. One reason for this complexity is that it’s not commonly found in polite conversation. This means that there’s a lack of awareness and understanding among many of us. It’s easy to make the mistake of assuming that it’s a topic that doesn’t belong in the workplace. Given its prevalence, however, it’s quite likely that most of us have a colleague, employee, boss, or business associate who has been affected by it. This means that there are people being abused at home who get up each day and go to work – often suffering silently.
The real-life situation that inspired this two-part blog post showed me that there are well-intentioned co-workers, managers, and business owners who would benefit from some advice on how to navigate this challenging topic. This way, various workplaces, and individuals can develop a better understanding and become better-equipped to support others who could be dealing with the fallout caused by domestic violence.
After that encounter, I started thinking about how the crisis of Domestic Violence should be more of a concern for employers, HR, and fellow colleagues.
Some ways that Domestic Violence Affects the Workplace
- Decreased work productivity
- Interpersonal skills strained
- Distraction due to threats to the victim (and potentially other employees)
- Decreased morale for the victim (and potentially other employees)
- Liability costs if the domestic abuser enters the workplace
- Trauma to the organization if anyone including the intended target is assaulted
- Replacing any staff who are traumatized or injured
Leaving an abuser is a dangerous time for the victim and anyone around the victim
The most dangerous time for a woman caught in domestic violence is when she finally ends the relationship. The separation period is a critical time in which the risk for violence (including homicide) escalates significantly. Studies also show this is when the batterer often becomes obsessed with getting revenge or reasserting their control over the victim and may begin to increase threats, stalking and other forms erratic aggressive behaviour. This hostility usually follows the victim to her place of work, mainly because that is where the abuser knows the victim will be.
They will be familiar with their former partner’s routine/schedule and have better access to accost the victim either as they arriving, at or leaving their work building. Often assaults happen in parking garages or parking lots, but they also occur inside the actual workplace too. This puts all employees at risk at work and elsewhere.
Be a Safe Place
- Establish a good relationship with employees so that when something significant happens in their life that may have an impact on their work, they are comfortable explaining.
- Once the victim has shared their story validate them and try to be supportive (e.g., avoid passing judgment, try to be flexible regarding hours of work and time off to access support and possibly legal services).
- Keep the matter confidential.
Be Prepared, then Help Them Prepare
- If available, the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is an important resource to mention and utilize. A certain amount of support will be available at no or low cost. Then, referrals to specialists are made if/when necessary.
- The Ottawa Coalition to End Violence against Women (OCTEVAW) website lists numerous resources.
- White Ribbon helps bystanders and allies learn how to support others affected by domestic abuse more effectively.
- Psychologists and social workers who specialize in these matters are also a good source of ongoing support.
Need help dealing with delicate or high-stakes career or HR issue? I invite you to contact me privately. I offer a free 15 to 20-minute initial consultation by phone. Or, if you prefer, you can contact me via email, or via direct message on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.
More than career coaching, it’s career psychology®.
I/O Advisory Services – Building Resilient Careers and Organizations.
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