While organisational policy is an important first step, a new survey reveals action is required in the form of training and programs in order to effectively address domestic violence.
Workplace Domestic violence policies are falling short, according to new research. While the intent to handle the issues exists in many organisations, it appears that currently policies are too broad, and so they aren’t working effectively.
A recent study conducted by the Australian HR Institute (AHRI) found that only 14 per cent of respondents reported their organisation provides training tailored to domestic violence related issues. Another area where organisations are falling behind is in providing training for managers in recognising the signs and symptoms of domestic violence in employees. Only 18 per cent of respondents had received training in this area.
The extent of the problem
According to figures presented by Our Watch, one in four Australian women have experienced a form of domestic violence. Domestic violence is the leading cause of death, disability and illness of Australian women aged 15-44. That’s a significant proportion of the workforce. Our Watch, states that “Most women who experience violence are in the paid workforce.”
Considering this, you have to wonder why more organisations don’t transform policy into action. It seems the issue might be that most don’t perceive domestic violence to be a workplace issue. There is evidence that organisations see it that way.
Not a workplace problem?
AHRI Chairman Peter Wilson says of the survey results, “It is interesting to note that a substantial minority of the HR respondents in this study report that they see domestic violence as a workplace problem with respect to productivity (34 per cent) and absenteeism (38 per cent).” The majority of organisations, however, were unsure about whether they felt domestic violence victims were less productive or took more time off.
Wilson continues, “I believe that until the evidence puts the connections beyond doubt, as it inevitably will, workplaces will be reluctant to put domestic violence practices in place that are well informed and effective.”
The business case for caring is already there, with the Australian Law Reform Commission estimating domestic violence will cost the Australian economy $15.6 billion in 2021-22.
How to transform policy into practice
UNSW Professor Karin Sanders who was the lead researcher on the project says that high level policy is irrelevant unless the managers who are in contact with the victims of domestic violence are appropriately trained. “They are the ones in closest contact with the victim who will actually make a difference to how an employee responds,” says Sanders.
According to Sanders, HR should be responsible for addressing the issue of funding for domestic violence programs with senior management.
Firstly, managers need to be up to date with what domestic violence looks like today. There are more and more male victims, and the violence is not always physical in nature. Breaking down the stereotypes and recognising sufferers is the beginning of the process.
Following that, there should be case management and coaching and counselling within the organisation. Supervisors should also be aware of the services that Employee Assistance Programs provide, as well as external counselling services. Managers need to be abreast of the services out there for victims and point them in the right direction, says Sanders.
In terms domestic violence leave, Sanders says this should vary per employee. “Some victims may need to take leave and others feel the need to continue and have the stability of the work context and have the option to be able to talk to colleagues and optimally, their supervisor,” she says.
Finally, Sanders maintains that training should be ongoing and take place every couple of years, to remain up to date with current research on best practice.
Learn more about organisational domestic violence policies and programs at AHRI’s Inclusion and Diversity Conferences in Canberra on 26 October and Melbourne on 2 November. Register online.