Each month, "The Balance Sheet" provides questions and answers from experts on a topic that's important to you as a manager. Please feel free to share this information with other colleagues who also manage people.
Q. I always thought that family violence was almost exclusively a behind-closed-doors phenomenon and that the workplace was simply not in the picture. Is family violence something employers really need to be concerned with as a business matter?
A. Business and industry are severely affected by domestic violence because of lost productivity, health care costs, absenteeism, turnover, negative effects on workers and direct risks to the workplace when violence comes through the door. The health-related costs of rape, physical assault, stalking and homicide by intimate partners exceeds $6 billion each year. The annual cost of lost productivity due to domestic violence is estimated at $727 million, with more than 7.9 million paid workdays lost per year. This vast problem led to the formation of the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence. Its purpose is to make a difference, and in recent years it has even expanded to help educate young people to support zero tolerance for dating violence in an effort to curb problems with future employees.
Q. An employee says her husband is violent. She won’t go to BJC EAP because she thinks he’ll read her mind and know it. Some employees are worried for her, but he is the only spouse who has brought roses to the office! Frankly, he seems nice. What do you think is going on?
A. There are many possibilities, but you should still encourage her to visit or call BJC EAP to discuss her situation. A sudden crisis or incident may increase her motivation, but if she is a battered spouse, the reluctance you see now is not inconsistent with how victims of abuse sometimes react. This “battered spouse syndrome” frequently includes a belief or “omnipresent” feeling that the batterer is superior or in control of the victim. The victim may believe she is being watched. This PTSD-like response demonstrates true fear. Batterers sometimes demonstrate a pattern or cycle of growing tension, releasing it through battering, blaming the partner and then demonstrating remorse and overindulgence (e.g., bringing roses to the office) to make up for the violence. The cycle then repeats. Do not eliminate the possibility of formally referring her to BJC EAP based on the impact on your work environment. It sounds drastic, but such a referral would be EAP-appropriate, and it could save lives.
Q. Why is domestic violence an issue for the workplace? Domestic means this problem is at home, not at work, right?
A. Three quarters of battered women (men are also victims) report being threatened while at work by a partner or spouse. This leads to lost productivity, distractions and absences from the work post. Other issues also affect the workplace, like a violent partner coming to the job site. This can pose a grave threat, and many incidents of homicide in the workplace each year are associated with this circumstance. A former partner of a domestic violence victim may call or come to the workplace to harass the victim primarily because the job site is a required, familiar and predictable place for the victim to be. Less often considered, but also costly are employee batterers. They may be less productive, miss work, get incarcerated or have unpredictable absences when stalking victims and getting into legal trouble. At work, batterers or stalkers may use work time to check up on their victims, or may spend lengthy periods of time on the phone processing and apologizing following battering incidents. A supervisor may never discover that domestic violence is linked to performance issues, but if you do, don’t keep it a secret. Contact BJC EAP and consult on arranging a referral.