Domestic abuse represented by iceberg
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A new toolkit from Business in the Community can help businesses address domestic abuse.

Each week two women in the UK are killed by a current, or former partner. That shocking statistic makes real the disturbing scale of domestic abuse in Britain. In the course of a year 1.9 million adults experience abuse – and it doesn’t always involve violence; it can be emotional, sexual or economic.

Historically, domestic abuse has been one of those issues that organisations haven’t been sure how to respond to. Unlike poor mental health or financial wellbeing, which have both surfaced as organisational priorities over the last 5 years, it remains a largely hidden presence in the workplace. One of the reasons for this is that until recently it has lacked a substantial evidence base around its prevalence and impact. By contrast the evidence for the adverse effect of financial difficulties on employee wellbeing and on business performance is extensive- Barclay’s found that poor financial wellbeing among employees was costing companies 4% of productivity. Nor have there been the kinds of attention grabbing campaigns like Time to Change, that have done so much to change attitudes to mental health in the workplace.

The fact that employees are reluctant to talk about abuse doesn’t help as it keeps it under the radar. A TUC study found that fewer than one in three (29%) of those enduring domestic violence, discussed their experience with anyone from work. The main reasons cited for not disclosing were “shame” and “privacy”. But that silence has meant that employers have been unaware of the true scale of the problem. An Ipsos Mori survey of 200 HR leads suggested that domestic abuse wasn’t a priority or likely to become one for their organisations. There was an assumption that their companies were unaffected by the issue and only a minority saw it as a policy concern, though there was an acknowledgement that there is a duty of care responsibility.

This may be about to change, as recent research has produced new insights not just into the scale of the problem nationally, but its prevalence in the workplace and its impact on business performance. Home Office figures reveal that 75% of people who experience domestic abuse are targeted in the workplace. And 58% of abused women will miss at least three days of work a month. At a macro level, domestic abuse costs the UK economy around £1.9 billion a year in lost wages, sick pay and reduced productivity.

So the impact in the workplace is both real and significant. We may term the abuse as “domestic” but in reality, it isn’t restricted to the home. The workplace ought to be a safe haven from abuse but it’s often far from that. When an abused person seeks to escape, by moving out of the domestic situation, the workplace is often the easiest place for the abuser to find them. Not surprising, as so many people work at a fixed location where their working hours are predictable.

Yet now may be a particularly opportune moment to try and elicit corporate commitment to addressing domestic abuse at work. Businesses are embracing the employee wellbeing agenda as never before, so it makes complete sense to tackle a problem that affects the wellbeing of so many people. Moreover we now have the data revealing the significant costs to employers of failing to act.

So this is a timely moment for Business in the Community to launch their Domestic Abuse Toolkit. This “how to” guide for companies seeking to tackle domestic abuse, outlines the business case for action, provides guidelines for constructing a policy, looks at training needs for key staff and highlights the sources of support that need to be put in place.

Some forward thinking organisations are already ahead of the curve in addressing the issue and BITC’s toolkit includes informative case studies from the UK banking sector. Lloyds and Santander provide excellent examples of how to raise awareness of domestic abuse across the organisation and make employees aware of the resources and support available.

The toolkit provides the inspiration and the wherewithal for employers to act and change the way domestic abuse is managed in the workplace. To do so would be to dramatically improve the lives of so many employees every year and make the workplace a safe and more supportive environment in which to work.

Domestic violence employer toolkit