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Unsafe at work

When domestic violence enters the workplace?

Here in Barbados we have had several incidents of domestic violence that entered the workplace. Although the ones reported in the media may be few and far between, I am sure that there are several unreported episodes.

Very often we like to sit in our “ivory towers” and think that domestic violence is a class thing and that only those people in the lower social class are exposed to such behaviour. However, this is not the case, according to McFerran (2013) (National Director of safety at home, safety at work project) University of New South Whales, “domestic violence is not confined to one particular class or individuals with lofty academic achievements”.

Therefore, one set of employees do not have immunity while others are at risk. I am sure that readers have either seen or heard of at least one employee (usually a woman) who was assaulted at or near her place of work by an irate spouse.

The problem is, we like to distance ourselves from these problems and some may even find it humorous, instead of considering what can be done to protect employees with such problems. The article this week is about domestic violence when it enters the workplace.

Very often, we overhear individuals expressing shock when persons of high social standing are subjected to domestic violence. As a result, many women/men suffer in silence as they strive to separate their home environment from their world of work.

However, as McFerran (2013) suggests, domestic violence can occur to anyone including your work colleagues/ managers. These people may struggle daily to prevent this type of violent behaviour from affecting their job or co-workers but at times it becomes inevitable.

This is why management must recognise that domestic violence can spill over to the workplace at any time and that it is not a class thing since the workplace is a reflection of individuals in the wider society. Therefore, we can no longer think of it as a private matter that should be hidden or that employees should pretend would never take place.

You see, at times, the workplace is the only safe haven for victims of domestic violence/abuse since it plays a vital role in ensuring that these individuals have economic independence. However, when domestic violence spills over into the workplace, fellow employees can become witnesses to harassment and even the stalking behaviour of the spouse.

It is possible that this behaviour has a carryover effect which could result in psychological distress to these workers.

Therefore, instead of pretending that such behaviour is only limited to others, management must realise that domestic violence is unavoidable in the contemporary workplace. Furthermore, research has revealed that both males and females are at risk to such behaviour although statistics suggests a higher prevalence among females.

Some of the indicators of workplace abuse very often go unnoticed. However, one may see/witness a spouse of another employee who turns up at the workplace and makes threatening or abusive comments. Often times they make several abusive phone calls/emails and may even go so far as to prevent the employee from reporting to work.

This is because the abuser may take the car keys or smash the cell phone to prevent the victim from reporting the incident. It has become apparent in the contemporary workplace that domestic violence does not remain at home. Furthermore, research by McFerran (2013) suggests that more often than not it follows the employee to work where the end result could be fatal.

People may ask, what are some indicators of this behaviour? One response is, domestic violence can result when the victim ends a relationship or it may stem from an ongoing relationship. So co-workers or colleagues must be mindful of minor complaints of abusive emails or phone calls. The victim may even report that they could not attend work because they lost/misplaced the car or keys.

They may try to pass it off as a funny story rather than say that their spouse physically prevented them from leaving the home. They may display high levels of anxiety, lack of concentration and may demonstrate a drastic change on job performance especially in areas where they previously did excellent work.

In the case of females, they may start to wear more make-up than usual to cover up injuries or wear clothing that conceals unexplained bruises or injuries

One may ask at this stage, what can be done? Well if management examines the cost of such abuse on the organisation they would realise that symptoms such as high absenteeism, loss of productivity and high levels of staff turnover will impact on the organisation’s sine qua non.

Therefore, they should thoroughly investigate any suspicious behaviour with the aim to prevent the loss of a valuable and productive employee.

So how can management assist such employees? McFerran suggests that management should ensure that confidentiality is kept at high levels, without which there is no reassurance. Next, they ought to create an atmosphere of trust, compassion and consideration where the employee feels comfortable asking for assistance with problems of a personal nature.

In this way, victims of domestic abuse in the workplace would feel at ease when recounting trouble of this kind. Moreover, management may consider creating or implementing flexible hours of work, personal time off, increasing security at work and employee assistance programs that are designed to support employees through difficult times.

These procedures may not only help increase productivity in the long term but they may someday assist a loved one, since domestic violence can easily spill over into the workplace and it is no respecter of persons. Until next time….

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