Impact of IPV on the Workplace:
As you may have seen in our last blog post, survivors of intimate partner violence experience many barriers to finding and seeking employment. It is important, therefore, for the workplace itself to have an idea of how to respond to and work with an employee who may be experiencing these obstacles, be you an employer, a supervisor, or simply a fellow coworker!
Even though the abuse may only be conducted within the home, effects of the violence can frequently be seen in the workplace of many survivors. Costs to employers related to IPV can be as high as five million dollars, taking into consideration things like absenteeism, employee turnover, and loss of productivity (Katula, 2012). A study by Samuel et al. (2011) found that survivors of IPV reported that declines in their work performance “ranged from no effect at all to significant impairments,” with tardiness and absences being the most common effect (p. 252). The participants additionally mentioned that they felt their work relationships also suffered due to the stigma and secrecy surrounding IPV (Samuel et al., 2011). This isolation is sometimes furthered by the fact that survivors may not be able to participate in team building activities within the workplace due to physical injury, bruises, or simply not feeling comfortable enough (Alsaker, Moen, Baste, & Morken, 2016, p. 483).
In light of this, survivors may not feel comfortable disclosing to their supervisors or fellow employees, leaving the cause of the decline in work quality shrouded in mystery. Workplaces may not know what is going on or how to respond. Therefore, as Alsaker et al. (2016) writes, “Employers and co-workers need to know that negative incidents at work may be a result of IPV” (p. 486). An employer should consider how perpetrator actions can impact victims before, during, and after work hours (Keim, Strauser & Olguin, 2009). Employers should be conscious that a decline in work performance, especially when accompanied with tardiness and absence, could be a sign of intimate partner violence and offer supports accordingly to their employees, be this by referring them to services outside of work or simply making accommodations for necessary lost hours or productivity.
However, many supervisors report feeling uncomfortable broaching this subject with their employees or are unsure of how to do so. For example, supervisors may be worried that asking an employee about whether or not they are an IPV survivor could be construed as harassment or an invasion of privacy, particularly if the supervisor is male (Samuel et al., 2011). They may also be wary due to language or cultural differences, being unsure of resources or how to offer aid, or even feeling worried that they “would bear responsibility for any advice offered to the employee if the employee's situation should worsen” (Samuel et al., 2011, p. 254).
What is Currently Being Done:
The good news is that this concern generally comes from a good place and, while wary, employers are generally willing to work with the survivor to ensure they still have a place at the workplace; employers “stressed the importance of keeping the employee on the job, even if she needed extended time off or if her performance had declined” (Samuel et al., 2011, p. 255). This is very important, as to many survivors “work represent[s] survival and recovery through freedom from violence and contact with others who cared for them, and this [is] important for the maintenance of self-esteem and self-confidence” (Alsaker et al., 2016, p. 485). As one survivor, Susan, reports, “[F]or me it has been so incredibly important to go to work, because out there in working life we are worth something. So maybe that is why I survived and didn’t throw myself off the balcony, because I experienced so much acceptance at work” (Alasker et. al, 2016, p. 482).
However, it is not only the social systems and supports found at the workplace that make finding or maintaining employment essential; having a steady income also provides survivors with greater economic independence, therefore opening them up to wider opportunities and courses of action (Alsaker et al., 2016). Therefore, work offers not only a form of escape and support, but also “function[s] as a social insurance and empower clients in IPV situations to be financially independent from the abusive partner” (Alasker et al., 2016,p. 486). When workplaces find ways to keep survivors in their jobs, the survivor is able to have a form of escape from their partner that also offers them a degree of independence.
Recommendations for Better Practices:
While workplaces do tend to see the importance of keeping a survivor in her position, there is still far more that can be done in workplaces to make them a safer space for disclosure and healing. Here are three main takeaways that employers and supervisors should keep in mind when working with a survivor:
First of all, workplaces should have work-based resources surrounding IPV, specifically tools surrounding how to discuss IPV sensitively and legally, as per the concerns raised by many supervisors previously (Samuel et al., 2011). Being prepared and having even simple suggestions of conversation starters to open a dialogue around this subject can go a long way in allowing employers and survivors alike to feel safer when broaching this often difficult topic.
Additionally, there is a need for the creation of policy surrounding IPV in the workplace, which can optimize feelings of safety and increase employee productivity (Keim, Strauser & Olguin, 2009). A safe workplace can offer employees the opportunity to be challenged and to grow (Katula, 2012). An IPV policy or program can help mitigate negative impacts experienced by victims and coworkers such as fear, nervousness, chronic ailments or changes in behaviour. Formal support in the workplace can include flexible work arrangements, access to counselling, job relocation, providing education regarding what abuse looks like as well as safety planning (Katula, 2012). Steps to creating an IPV program/policy would involve identifying existing resources for promotion and development, creating an IPV position or policy informed by stakeholders, identifying how policy will be enforced, and developing training for staff related to IPV signs and symptoms, responses, interventions and safety (Katula, 2012). Some supervisors would like to see this done on a corporate or governmental level (Samuel et al., 2011); in fact, there is currently a push by the NB Labour Union for legislation to be implemented province-wide that offers supports and time off (both paid and unpaid) for survivors who may need time to move, visit their doctor or lawyer, and so on (New Brunswick Union, 2016). Other supervisors would simply prefer “open door policies” rather than such formal approaches (Samuel et al., 2011).
Finally, many supervisors in various workplaces believe that “having a list of community resources for referral would be useful and important,” particularly those related to crisis centres or legal aid, so that they might direct their employee to resources outside of the office if necessary and desired (Samuel et al., 2011, p. 256). In addition to helping an employee feel safe and cared for within the workplace, this puts them in touch with additional supports they are able to access should they chose to seek aid outside of the office.
In Conclusion …
While we acknowledge that a variety of institutional and organizational barriers exist when considering implementing an IPV program or policy (such as a lack of funding and personal resources, an insufficient relationship between the employer and the IPV sector, and a shortage of knowledge about the topic which may translate to a lack of interest) (Katula, 2012),the implementation of an IPV policy or program would produce many benefits to victims and employees; this includes increased self-esteem, improved finances, greater social connections, and even maybe fostering a sense of motivation and purpose (Katula, 2012). At the very least, an organization must be willing to collaborate with victims and assure that they will not be condemned for seeking support (Katula, 2012). A little can go a long way!
Liberty Lane is currently in the process of creating tools to help employers address intimate partner violence in the workplace. For more information on what you can do, feel free to contact us at (506) 451-2120.
By Lacie Hardy, Ally Loiselle, and Kathleen Chiasson
Links to Articles:
Alsaker, K., Moen, B. E., Baste, V., & Morken, T. (2016). How has living with intimate partner violence affected the work situation? A qualitative study among abused women in Norway. Journal of Family Violence, 31(4), 479-487. Retrieved on October 24, 2017.
(See PDF below.)
Katula, S.L. (2012). Creating a safe haven for employees who are victims of domestic violence. Nursing Forum, 47(4), 217-225
(See PDF below.)
Keim, J., Strauser, D.R., & Olguin, D.L. (2009). Enhancing employment outcomes for survivors of intimate partner violence: A developmental work personality perspective. Journal of Employment Counseling, 46(3), 136-144.
(See PDF below.)
New Brunswick Union. (2016). Legislation would help victims of domestic violence. Retrieved from http://www.nbu.ca/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=3453:legislation-would-help-victims-of-domestic-violence&Itemid=136&lang=en
Samuel, L. J., Tudor, C., Weinstein, M., Moss, H., & Glass, N. (2011). Employers' perceptions of intimate partner violence among a diverse workforce. Safety and Health at Work 2(3), 250-259. doi: 10.5491/SHAW.2011.2.3.250. Retrieved on October 24, 2017.
(See PDF below.)