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Friday, November 20, 2009

Family, friends and workplace weave the safety net for victims of intimate partner violence

I posted a similar version of this on my firm's HRmarketer Blog, but I'm giving it a little personal twist for GOTG.

There really weren't any resources for my mother in 1972. She volunteered and then worked as a secretary for the local school district where I grew up, and every time my birth father beat her, there was full clothing to cover the bruises, avoiding others stares and conversation, absenteeism when it was really bad, and more.

There were no domestic violence or workplace violence programs, no employee assistance programs offering counseling or shelter referrals, no assessment and action plans from human resources.

Don't ask, don't tell. The fear and shame that comes with abuse and intimate partner violence is overwhelming enough (intimate partner violence another name for domestic violence) - you don't want your employer to know for fear of losing your job. Employers don't want to know for fear of potential violence in the workplace.

You don't want to tell your friends or family either - even when my grandparents did find out about my mom, they weren't exactly supportive at first.

For my mother and countless others it was faith and prayer and finally the personal strength to get out of the violence.

It still is, although today there are thankfully so many more resources available and more and more companies have workplace violence and/or intimate partner violence programs and/or EAPs. Family and friends need to wake up and be part of the solution as well.

Your workplace can and should take the lead in providing these programs, not only to protect the victims of domestic violence, but also to protect the workplace from the batterers. And for those of you who don't have these programs at your organizations, you should go to HR and your management team and request them.

Consider these:

  • A recent survey of CEOs found that most believe domestic violence to be a serious issue, yet 71% did not believe it is a problem in their company. (The reality is that approximately 21% of fulltime working adults report being a victim of domestic violence.)
  • Over 70% of United States workplaces have no formal program or policy that addresses workplace violence.
  • Of the approximately 30% that have formal workplace violence policies in place (usually binders on shelves gathering dust), only 13% have domestic violence in the workplace policies and only 4% provide training on domestic violence in the workplace (Bureau of Labor Statistics from 2006).

Only 4%. Seems like one helluva short trip from 1972.

And consider these EAP obstacles:

  • The most common reason women didn't contact their EAP for intimate partner violence is that they didn't think about it or didn't think appropriate.
  • Employee utilization of intimate partner violence EAP services is very low.
  • The number one concern of battered women before contacting an EAP is confidentiality -- they’re afraid employee will find out.
  • Most EAPs don't have standardized evaluations or codes for intimate partner violence.

But even considering there's much work to be done, human resources, security professionals, EAPs and workplace violence non-profits have all made huge strides in working together to address intimate partner violence and workplace violence.

One organization in particular - the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence - is the only national organization of its kind founded by business leaders and focused on the workplace. Check out some the companies that are members. I came in contact with this organizationearlier this year and was fortunate enough to participate in a few of their S2 - Safer, Smarter Workplace webinars. I was also fortunate enough to interview its Executive Director, Kim Wells (that'll be the next HR Market Share podcast after Thanksgiving).

Amazing employer resources come from the CAEPV. Download Six Steps to Creating a Successful Workplace Program here. Also, great list of dos and don'ts here.

EAPs play a critical role as well. One of my firm's clients - Corporate Counseling Associates - recently released a white paper titled Healthy Organizations Mitigate the Risk of Violence that includes several ways to reduce the threat of violence in the workplace:

  • Communicate a zero tolerance policy & develop ongoing employee communications to reinforce the message.
  • Set up company procedures for reporting incidents of violence.
  • Create a Threat of Violence (TOV) Team, involving members of the following departments: Health Services, Human Resources, Security, EAP, Legal, Facilities Management, Corporate Affairs, and Public Relations.
  • Establish organizational mechanisms to prevent violence.
  • Constantly monitor and identify “weak spots” in management practices and/or development programs.
  • Educate senior management on the warning signs and symptoms of violence-prone individuals, and the environmental pressures that can trigger incidents.
  • Train the TOV team to ensure a disciplined execution of strategy.
  • Learn how to de-escalate aggression and improve conflict management skills. Run crisis scenario simulations.
In fact, the latest S2 webinar was all about Addressing Domestic Violence in the Workplace: An EAP/Employer Partnership.

We have come a long way from 1972. Family, friends and workplace weave the safety net for victims of intimate partner violence.

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