When International Law Firm, became aware of just how widespread the problem of domestic violence is across all sections of society, it set about encouraging any staff affected to come forward so that appropriate support could be provide. Lorna Gavin, head of corporate responsibility, explains, “We used to view domestic violence as a community issue, something that affected individuals at the refuges we were supporting and investing in as part of our work to help reduce homelessness.
She adds, “One in four women and one in six men will be affected by domestic violence during their adult life, which means nearly every organisation will have employees living with domestic violence. With over 1,000 staff ourselves, we had to face the fact that more than 200 of our employees would be affected at some point in their lives, with perhaps a few dozen enduring violence at any one time. We wanted to make anyone currently suffering feel safe about coming forward to ask for help.”
Research shows that over half of domestic violence sufferers call in sick at least three days a month, and turn up late more than five times a month, costing the UK economy an estimated £1.9bn a year. We recognised there was a real risk employees might feel too awkward or embarrassed to come forward. A key part of the strategy was therefore to encourage victims to call Validium’s existing Mental Health Support Programme (formerly EAP), so they could talk to a professional counsellor in confidence.
ILF set about training HR and key managers on how best to support staff affected by domestic violence, followed by receptionists and IT staff who were in a good position to deal with stalking and email harassment.
“As well as educating key staff how to spot the signs, ranging from performance and attendance issues to behaviour changes and physical signs of abuse, it was equally crucial to have a clear process in place to ensure all staff knew what do if they thought or knew that a colleague was at risk.” said Lorna.
Once the training had been completed, ILF published a series of resource pages on the issue on their intranet. They also put up posters, with bold headlines and striking images in every toilet cubicle, featuring real case studies about different types of domestic violence being endured by both men and women, and encouraging people to seek help from Validium.
Since we launched the initiative in 2011, more than 80% of ILF’s workforce accessed the domestic violence pages on the intranet. Although the identity of individuals is protected, we also know that 25-30 people are actively using the pages every month.
Most important of all, victims have started to come forward and ILF been able to give them practical support, for example, giving time out of work to do safety planning with the police – something they simply couldn’t do outside of work.
“Our focus now is to maintain that culture of trust. It’s helped that we’ve had a Mental Health Support Programme in place from Validium since 2008, as that shows we’re already committed to helping people to address issues they face outside of work. Whether the abuse has been physical or emotional, the victims of domestic violence have had their confidence battered,” Lorna adds.
“It’s a brave thing for them to tell someone they need help, so it’s often easier for them to talk to Validium in confidence first.”
Lorna Gavin, Head of Corporate Responsibility at International Law Firm