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Employers “in denial” about domestic abuse

Line managers could do more to help domestic abuse victims at work

Employers are “in denial” about the prevalence of domestic abuse among employees, according to Ben Page, chief executive of Ipsos Mori.

Speaking at the Employers Initiative on Domestic Abuse Conference in London, Page said employers do not have a clear idea of the scale of domestic abuse. “Our research says that while only one in 10 [9%] HR professionals thinks this is a subject that is not appropriate for them to discuss, only a quarter say it is an issue that affects their employees [with 26% agreeing it is an issue for HR policymakers]. There is a real element of denial there.”

Research presented at the event – Vodafone Foundation’s Domestic Violence and Abuse: Working together to transform responses in the workplace, undertaken by Durham University Centre for Research into Violence and Abuse and Ipsos MORI – found that 90% of the 200 HR professionals polled are not even roughly aware of the cost of such abuse to their business. However, of those that saw an impact, 58% thought an employee’s productivity had declined and 56% thought it had increased absenteeism.

As such, the main barrier to providing more support was found to be low awareness of the issue, cited by 64% of HR leads. This is despite Office for National Statistics figures on domestic violence estimating that almost two million UK adults have experienced some sort of domestic abuse in the last year.

Speaking at the same event, Jenn Barnett, head of people experience at Grant Thornton, highlighted the role that managers can play in spotting and helping employees facing domestic abuse. “You can help equip line managers with the skills to say ‘tell me about your life’. That helps to build a relationship and allows people to feel safe."

Referencing a personal story from a former victim of domestic abuse, Barnett suggested employers consider ways to be flexible when employees ask for help. “When someone says that they need to finish at 5pm today [for a personal reason], think of how you can enable your line managers to say that this is okay,” she said.

Helen Lamprell, external affairs director and general counsel of Vodafone UK, suggested employers take practical steps to help employees feel safe at work, even when facing domestic abuse in their private life.

“A policy is just a bit of paper,” she said. “Have you spoken to your head of security and your reception staff and told them what they should be doing? Your employee might want a new email address or a new phone number. Maybe you could consider allowing them to sit somewhere else, where they have an easier escape route if necessary.”