Can a workplace policy contribute to meeting social value targets? Yes it can! Let’s take a closer look at how a domestic abuse policy can contribute to tackling inequality, provide equal opportunities, and improve employee wellbeing.
In England and Wales alone, it is estimated 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will experience or have experienced domestic abuse in some form, and that 74% of all victims of domestic abuse are women. Office for National Statistics data* has shown two women are killed each week by a current or former partner.
Types of domestic abuse vary, from financial, psychological and physical, to coercive control where the abuser uses intimidation, isolation and degradation to cut people off from the social and financial support they already have – including their jobs.
In 2009, a study** was undertaken to quantify the “cost” of domestic abuse to businesses, and it was estimated that £1.9 billion per year is lost due to worsened productivity in the form of time off, lost wages and sick pay.
For the last eight years I’ve been volunteering as a trustee with Chester Women’s Aid, a small charity supporting victims of domestic abuse. We give crisis grants to survivors at the point they flee an abusive situation or leave refuge to go into dispersed housing.
Over the years, we’ve seen patterns in the grant applications related to employment. For example, support with bus fares to get to and from work, extra cash to buy food because of unpaid time off, and even fees for GP work referral letters.
During the last five years, many employers have placed greater emphasis on health and wellbeing in the workplace. It follows a worldwide shift in employment philosophy: employee health and wellbeing have proven to benefit the bottom line and must therefore be a critical part of any business strategy.
In their 2014 Survey report***, “Domestic Violence and the Workplace”, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) said that:
“Supporting employees who are experiencing domestic violence is crucial. Without a job and a source of income, those experiencing the abuse are less likely to find a way of escaping the abusive relationship. The emotional support of colleagues or of a union rep could also provide an important life line to an employee trapped in an abusive relationship. Without the link to the workplace and colleagues, those suffering abuse are more isolated and therefore more vulnerable.”
The TUC report also references analysis carried out by Professor Sylvia Walby and Jonathan Allen on the 2004 British Crime Survey****. They commented that:
“Vulnerability to some forms of inter-personal violence is associated with lack of access to economic resources. There are many ways in which lack of access to financial resources might increase vulnerability to becoming a victim, or indeed, perpetrator of violence. This may be associated with lack of access to resources to set up a new independent household or to pay for independent transport home such as a taxi. […] It is also possible that the causal link may flow in the opposite direction, that domestic violence leads to poverty either as a result of disrupted employment or as a result of fleeing the violence and setting up a new household as a lone parent who no longer benefits from a partner’s income.”
Given these insights, domestic abuse policy and training in the workplace can help both to tackle inequality and support equal opportunities through retaining employees if they are experiencing domestic abuse. The benefits to employee wellbeing are their ability to turn to their employer for signposting, supportive leave, payment, or processes that increase their safety at work and that of their colleagues.
Only 5% of UK employers have a specific policy or set of guidelines for domestic abuse*****, which could be seen negatively. In reality, this is a major opportunity for delivering social value for many businesses. Policies are an important bedrock for delivering long term social value to employees, the business, and communities. They must be accompanied by training in order to be truly effective, living policies that keep abreast of research, best practice, and create consistency in approach. This will engender the trust of the employees and ensure there is enough competence in the managing workforce to effectively support employees experiencing domestic abuse. It is a complex, nuanced topic which cannot be addressed in a one hour computer based training or equivalent.
In 2020 and 2021, there were several high-profile murders of women in their workplaces by their current or former partners. The horrific events prompted Chester Women’s Aid to develop a domestic abuse awareness training programme that is aimed at employers.
The training taught owners, directors, HR managers and Mental Health First Aiders within a company what domestic abuse is, the impact that it has in the workplace, and how those experiencing it can be supported. We found that simple actions, such as swift changing of bank details or company phone numbers and shift hours, as well as time off to manage moving house, attend court dates, and arrange childcare, could provide critical support to someone leaving and recovering from an abusive situation, while, critically, maintaining their employment status. Employment not only provides a potential safe space for a victim to be during working hours, but it also provides vital funds required to support themselves and their family should they leave a relationship or be the victims of financial abuse.
It seemed a “no brainer” – the victim could get on their feet, while the employer retains the trained employee and productivity with reduced safety and damage risks; society benefits by keeping vulnerable people in employment.
As we delivered training, we heard stories from trainees of “a time when”. A time when they were scared or hurt and didn’t feel they could tell their manager. A manager who didn’t know their employee was being abused and perhaps thought that they were underperforming for other reasons.
We learned of an example where an employee had disclosed being in an abusive situation to a director and how the latter managed the situation through intuition, without any formal guidance or policy to rely on.
We came to learn that a Quality, Safety, Health and Environment team had not considered domestic abuse as a risk to safety at work for victims and their colleagues. These stories reinforced the necessity of establishing a clear and simple policy and effective training.
In conclusion, domestic abuse policies and training are opportunities for organisations to both deliver and demonstrate social value, but more importantly, they are proven to improve and save lives.
This blog was written by Angela Benson, UK Commercial Bid Manager at Kuehne + Nagel. Angela has worked in logistics for 20 years. Her current role is Senior Commercial Proposal manager where she provides consultation to sales owners on bid strategy and writes responses articulating the Social, Commercial, and Operational value of Kuehne+Nagel’s services. In her spare time, she volunteers as a trustee Chair for Chester Women’s Aid, who raise awareness of domestic abuse and funds for victims. Originally from the United States, she has worked in Asia, Europe, and now calls the UK home, along with her husband and son.
*. ONS Domestic abuse prevalence and trends, England and Wales: year ending March 2022 https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/articles/domesticabuseprevalenceandtrendsenglandandwales/yearen dingmarch2021
**. Walby, S. The Cost of Domestic Violence, 2009 https://core.ac.uk/reader/187717938
***. TUC. Domestic Abuse and the Workplace Survey Report, 2014 https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/Domestic_Violence_And_The_Workplace_0.pdf
****. Walby, S. The Cost of Domestic Violence, Women and Equality Unit, 2004
*****. Domestic Violence and Abuse: Working together to transform responses in the workplace’, Durham University for The Vodafone Foundation, 2018 https://www.durham.ac.uk/media/durham-university/research-/research-centres/research-into-violence-and-abuse-centre-for/pdf files/WestmarlandVodafoneDomesticViolenceWorkplaceReport.pdf
Content by Angela Benson
UK Commercial Bid Manager, Kuehne + Nagel