In Australia, going to work and feeling safe are things we take for granted. There have been many media campaigns promoting a workplace health and safety to ensure that people leave work in the same state as they arrived, as well as professions and programs dedicated to this cause. It is also commonplace for organisations to roll out Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) to provide employees with free counselling for work or personal issues that may arise. These are all necessary and valuable initiatives, and an increased awareness around workplace health and safety has certainly saved lives and prevented countless workplace injuries.
But a safe workplace has more breadth and depth than this. It is one where employees feel safe to do their job to the best of their ability; where they can present new ideas and feedback without fearing for their job; where there is room for mistakes, and an understanding that sometimes curve balls can strike in a worker’s personal life and this may impact on work performance.
I have worked for a couple of organisations I would deem as “unsafe” – where there was zero tolerance for human error (and therefore little potential for growth and diversity), or everyone was expected to perform at 110%, regardless of personal or industry circumstance. Neither of these organisational cultures were conducive to the mental health of employees and neither retained their workers for long periods of time.
On the flip side, I have since worked for an incredible organisation that welcomes feedback from staff, understands mistakes are a natural part of development, and provides staff with the necessary support if life outside work takes a wrong term. As a result, this organisation enjoys great staff loyalty, engagement and lengthy average tenures.
When a staff member is going through domestic and family violence (DFV), feeling safe at work is particularly important. For many people in this situation, the workplace is their only respite from abuse and control. A workplace that makes them feel more threatened and disempowered may perpetuate their trauma and create a long term impact on their mental health.
In order to leave a DFV situation, victims need an income to become financially independent and rebuild their lives. If an employee feels that their job is unsafe, they are likely to remain in a DFV situation for longer, which increases their risk of physical and emotional harm.
I am sad to write that when I encountered DFV, my employer was not understanding. I did not feel supported or safe at work. In fact, I felt that my working life was as threatening as my home life – it was a never-ending tightrope. The angst caused by my situation at work perpetuated the situation at home. I would shake every time I received an email from my boss, just as I did when I received communications from my ex-partner. As a result, I left my job very soon after leaving my DFV situation and, in doing so, I took significant experience and intellectual property.
Having left my job, I took a more junior part time role and then gradually rebuilt my career. It took me two years to get back on track, causing great disruption to my career, finances and self-confidence. This would have been significantly lessened had I experienced an understanding workplace.
Organisations can provide support by:
- Ensuring their staff are adequately equipped to have a conversation about DFV – someone who has empathy to lighten the burden and understands potential disruption to a victim’s work performance or outputs.
- Having the right policies and procedures to reflect this flexible and empathetic approach.
- Providing direct and specialist support to victims of DFV to help them get back on their feet.
When staff leave, organisations can experience disruption, unnecessary costs and lost opportunities. If an organisation provides the necessary support to a victim of DFV, they are more likely to retain that staff member. What’s more, they will return to full working capacity more swiftly and, most importantly, they are likely to be less impacted by the trauma of DFV.
Fortunately, many organisations are interested in taking positive steps to proactively support people who are encountering DFV. But since it is such a complex topic, they often don’t know where to begin. Workhaven was formed to support organisations in this situation – to educate their staff, empower them to take action and enable DFV victims to move forward and become survivors. For more information, please visit workhaven.com.au