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Supporting employees suffering domestic abuse

Employers can't solve the issue of domestic violence alone but they can spot the signs of employees who are suffering and create safe spaces where people can speak up

One in four women and one in six men will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. This suggests that it is more likely than not that someone in your business is suffering domestic abuse or knows somebody who is.

As people spend a significant amount of their lives at work, the workplace can become increasingly important to those experiencing domestic abuse.

Some people view it as a safe space and so businesses have the potential to play a crucial and impactful role in supporting employees enduring domestic abuse in their personal lives.

Monday (25 November) marked the beginning of 16 Days of Action Against Domestic Violence – a national campaign which shines a spotlight on how businesses can take action against domestic abuse and violence.

The signs of domestic abuse can be difficult to recognise, especially in situations where the abuse is psychological rather than physical, meaning the impact may not be obvious on the surface.

I personally endured psychological abuse from connections in my personal life. Verbal threats and being harassed during the day via constant texts and calls were just some of the behaviours I experienced, which inevitably had a negative impact on my concentration and professional work commitments.

My own situation escalated during my maternity leave, and when I returned to work I decided to raise this with my manager to make her aware of the situation and as a potential source of support.

There isn’t a silver bullet when it comes to supporting victims of domestic abuse and I had a good support network which included my employer EY.

There are a number of steps I’ve seen in practice which help raise awareness, increase understanding and create a work environment that is supportive and safe to speak up in.

For me, being able to work flexibly so I could attend court hearings and alter my working day when childcare arrangements fell through had a positive impact.

I was able to balance my work and personal commitments and was empowered to feel more in control when managing ongoing issues and responsibilities.

Having a flexible team willing to reallocate resource for tasks allowed me to work on projects that I could focus on and better commit to during this time.

Accredited training for staff can also help people spot the signs of domestic abuse and ensure the right teams are equipped to offer support when the situation arises.

A large part of building awareness and understanding at EY has come from its domestic abuse guide which launched last year.

In addition to highlighting new tools and resources provided by Everyone’s Business and implementing a period of special leave, it aims to help everyone understand the experiences of colleagues who may be affected by domestic abuse.

It also points to resources such as access to an independent domestic violence advocate and specialist counselling services.

On a broader scale, momentum around this issue has been growing in recent years. The Employers' Initiative for Domestic Abuse is free to join and aims to raise awareness, build relationships and share best practice among employers to change how domestic abuse is perceived and handled in the UK.

Campaigns such as the 16 Days of Action Against Domestic Violence also provide vital platforms to help businesses focus on this often-hidden issue and foster ideas together on what can be done.

It’s unreasonable to think that an employer can solve the issue of domestic abuse alone.

But what they can do is increase understanding of the issue among employees, listen without judgement, make the workplace supportive and safe, and collaborate with employees and other businesses to identify new ideas that may help those affected.

There is no one-size-fits-all model – the key is understanding, collaborating and being flexible.

Sareena Rickett is a manager in people advisory services at EY