In this article, our HR Consultant, Lauren Long, covers Domestic Abuse and how you can support survivors within your workforce.
On 14th January 2021, Paul Scully MP and Business Minister penned an open letter to employers about Domestic Abuse in the workplace. On the same day, the Government also published its final report from its Review into Workplace Support for Survivors of Domestic Abuse, which was launched last June.
Admittedly, much of my focus this past year has been directed towards supporting organisations to obtain the financial support they need for their employees, implement effective flexible working practices or make very difficult structural changes to the workforce, which were regretfully necessary in order to survive the 3 devastating lockdowns. Along this rough road, those organisations and I have been very well aware of the financial, mental, and physical impact that the accumulation of so many sudden changes has had on individuals. We have all been digging deep to determine how best we can support people at a time when even the most resilient of us are tested.
However, domestic abuse is an issue that has not demanded a notable amount of my time among the requests for support I have received since the start of the pandemic. It is my view that unfortunately, this is more telling of the stigma that surrounds it, rather than of its prevalence amongst the workforce.
It is therefore timely that the Business Minister has brought this to the forefront of conversation, as this is absolutely where it needs to be. We spend most of our lives working, so it is critical that domestic abuse survivors know that they have the support of their employers, with whom they spend so much of their time. Handling such a sensitive and complex matter is by no means an easy task for organisations and not knowing where to start is often the barrier to action, but critically, silence on the matter could be the barrier for survivors to come forward and seek help.
The Business Minister has outlined 7 key steps for employers to take on board in his open letter which you can find here.
I have added some additional advice that will hopefully give you the confidence to start the conversations, offer support and encourage action on domestic abuse within your organisation.
Many organisations have done so much great work to champion mental health recently and at the heart of this has been the real push to raise awareness through various means, and these campaigns could be expanded to include domestic abuse. You could do this by communicating information about the facts of domestic abuse, making it clear that you are an organisation seeking to improve your organisations understanding and awareness. This sends a strong message to employees that you are there to support them, and provides a platform for survivors to open up, knowing that you are ready to listen. Raising awareness about domestic abuse is also important to help employees understand how to support their colleagues and what to look out for. The National Domestic Abuse helpline has information about how to spot the signs of domestic abuse and what to do if you think someone is suffering.
While you as an organisation can be there to listen and help, individuals often need professional support to help manage what are very complex situations. Sign-posting employees to the right places that they can access help is vital, as without that encouragement, some survivors may never think about accessing professional help. There are many resources available and information about local and national domestic abuse services can be found on the www.gov.uk website. You may also have heard in the media of the amazing campaigns that companies like Boots are running to give survivors a safe space in their stores; sharing even small pieces of information that you hear could make all the difference to someone.
For many survivors of domestic abuse, attending the workplace is an important respite from their home life. The lockdowns have made attending a physical workplace impossible for many organisations, meaning survivors are forced to spend all of their time at home. It is so important that you are checking in on employees regularly about how they are coping at home and providing them with the opportunity to tell you if they aren’t. Many people feel shame or fear about opening up and by asking questions, you may be putting them at ease to confide in you. With the easing of the restrictions, you may also now be in a position to open up your workplace to allow anybody that isn’t coping at home to go in.
You may also want to consider how and where employees can access resources and professional help privately from their colleagues. Control is fundamental to domestic abuse and so freely accessing help may prove impossible at home. Creating a safe space in work and allowing time for employees to make calls or access the internet privately could be the enabler for survivors to seek support.
‘If you have a job and a home, you are lucky’ is a narrative that I have found to be commonplace throughout the pandemic, and whilst I can appreciate that its intentions are good, I have often thought that this has the potential to undermine some serious issues that people may be battling personally. If you do notice changes in people or you think somebody is particularly negative or struggling, start by asking how you can help and if there is any support that they need. Encouraging people to see the positives is a great way to help improve somebody’s mood but sometimes this could act as a barrier for people being truly honest with how they feel. Let your employees or colleagues know that it’s ok to say how they are really feeling and to reach out if they need any support. It’s so important that we create environments where people feel that they won’t be judged and that they will be taken seriously.
There are so many free resources available for employers to help them to support domestic abuse survivors within the workplace. Business in the Community and Public Health England offers free guidance for employers, such as advice and toolkits. Your local council may offer support that you can access in your local area. An organisation I previously worked alongside had set up a ‘Crisis fund’ to support employees, which I think is a brilliant idea. The employer would pay into this each month and employees were able to confidentially request funds from this, to use to access help when in a crisis. Financial difficulties could be another barrier for survivors to get away from the home in emergency situations, so a resource such as this could be life-changing.
It is so important that survivors of domestic abuse have access to the support that they so desperately need. As organisations, we could be providing a life-line. For further guidance on Domestic Abuse, you can visit:
If you have any concerns or would like to discuss anything further, please get in contact with the HPC team today
T: 0844 800 5932