2017 has been an extraordinary year for progress on mental health awareness. With the Royal Family driving the Heads Together campaign, millions of pounds have been raised to tackle the problem alongside the Government’s pledge to increase funding dedicated to mental health. The importance of mental wellbeing in the workplace has also risen up the list of issues for employers, with the IoD playing its part by launching a mental health campaign back in March.
Developments over the past year have been a huge step forward, but employers should not stop there. As we look towards 2018, business inclusivity should remain at the top of company owners’ and managers’ agenda. One issue that is still widely seen as a social problem, rather than something employers should pay attention to, is domestic violence. However, evidence shows that it is in fact, very much a ‘business issue’.
Last month I attended a conference organised by the Employers’ Initiative on Domestic Abuse, a group which the IoD is a member of, where employers heard from Home Secretary Amber Rudd, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick, and a number of business leaders.
It turns out that only 1 in 20 medium and large companies in the UK has a specific policy in place to cover employees suffering domestic abuse, despite high levels of awareness about the matter among HR professionals. Nevertheless, there is a strong case for employers to get on board – research has shown that of those businesses that have been impacted by the issue, 58% found that experiencing domestic abuse led to the decline in employee productivity and 56% saw the victim experience absenteeism at work. Meanwhile, as many as 46% of employers and HR professionals also noticed that productivity of other staff members dropped as a result of somebody in the team suffering from domestic abuse.
For many people affected by domestic abuse, their workplace is often a ‘safe haven’. However, many employers don’t know how to tell whether an employee is experiencing troubles at home. Some particular signs may include the person coming to work late, spending more time responding to text messages at work and avoiding work-related outings taking place out of the standard working hours. Another - and even more crucial - problem is that employers often don’t know how they can actually support their staff or where to seek external help. It is worth noting that guidance to tackle domestic abuse in the workplace will soon become freely available, with Business in the Community and Public Health England, in cooperation with a number of charities, launching an online toolkit next year.
But what can employers do now? As with mental health in the workplace, the first crucial step forward is changing the culture so that people are comfortable talking about issues that are affecting them outside of work. Starting the conversation simply by asking employees ‘how are things at home?’ every now and again would be a great start. This would go a long way in breaking the barriers in the workplace and making workers more comfortable discussing personal issues with their managers if they wish to do so. Signposting is another easy way to show people that they are supported at work. Whether it’s a checklist poster in the kitchen or a helpline phone number on the notice board, making your employees aware of the services that are there to help is, in the words of the Home Secretary, “a clear moral responsibility and a duty of care” by employers.
While the conference aimed to highlight that looking after employees who may be experiencing domestic abuse is very much a business responsibility, the message that repeatedly arose throughout the conversations was that it’s also simply about being human. Other countries are starting to recognise that: the Australian Labor Party has pledged to introduce 10 days of paid domestic violence leave, while New York City mayor Bill De Blasio signed a bill last week expanding the city’s paid sick leave laws to include “safe time” for workers suffering from domestic violence. With UK Government opening a new Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill next year, the importance of tackling the issue in this country should hopefully go up in the agenda. Nevertheless, business leaders have a role to play too.
If you’re interested in becoming a member of the Employers’ Initiative on Domestic Abuse to show your support for tackling domestic abuse in the workplace, do get in touch.
 Vodaphone domestic violence report
 The Guardian
For more information, visit the Employers' Initiative on Domestic Abuse group website here
Mental health in the workplace
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Kamile Stankute, Parliamentary Affairs Officer, IoD
Kamile Stankute joined the Institute of Directors in November 2016 as Parliamentary Affairs Officer.
Kamile joined the IoD after graduating from King’s College London with MA in Politics and Contemporary History. Her role is managing day to day relations with MPs, government departments and assisting with policy developments and research.
Kamile has previous experience in public affairs, interning at agencies and in-house. Prior to joining the IoD, she spent 6 weeks at HM Treasury as a researcher, where she used unpublished Treasury documents to produce a report on the 1988 Budget.