How to spot the signs someone is enduring domestic abuse

In this article we highlight the key things to look out for to enable anyone to spot the signs some-one at work, a friend or neighbour is struggling in an abusive relationship.

Domestic Abuse is having a negative impact on the morale, productivity and performance of workplace teams across our county and we are on a mission, to help business colleagues address this by taking a stand against Domestic Abuse.  Find out more about the impact of Domestic Abuse at work on our advice for employers page. The majority of Domestic Abuse happens behind closed doors, the impact on the workplace is far too frequently ignored, or swept under the carpet….

The Impact of Domestic Violence on a survivor’s working life:

  • Physical abuse can prevent an employee being able to work at all or to full capacity, due to physical injury and the consequent impact on mobility, hearing and vision for example.
  • Mental health issues resulting from abuse, such as anxiety and depression, can affect concentration levels, ability to cope under pressure and productivity levels.
  • Increased absenteeism for Doctor’s appointments, hospital visits and operations to enable an employee to get fit and well post assault. 
  • Long term chronic pain from sustained attacks and a variety of mental health issues can cause presenteeism. (Coming to work despite injury, physical or mental illness, that results in reduced levels of productivity).
  • Work place absence can increase, because of having to take time of work to seek help from solicitors or support agencies
  • Excess alcohol or drug use, as a coping mechanism can directly impact productivity and potentially put colleagues at risk.
  • Lateness resulting from arguments where an abuser deliberately prevents an employee from going to work.
  • Possibility of work place harassment, where a perpetrator targets their victim at work by phone, email and in person. Intimidating and even assaulting their assailant at work.

 The Impact of domestic violence on YOU, their work colleagues

Domestic abuse also affects all the people close to the victim, including work colleagues, though they might not even realise it is happening.  Whilst a lot of domestic abuse goes on behind closed doors the ramifications can send ripples through the work place.  If you work closely with a domestic abuse survivor it is likely that you will:

  • End up trying to cover for or fill in for your absent or non-productive colleague.
  • Get distracted from your own work and become less productive.
  • Try to “protect” your colleague from harassing phone calls or work place visits
  • Feel worried, helpless and unsure about the best way to help or intervene

Be mindful that there is also a risk of vicarious trauma if someone is supporting an individual experiencing trauma, without receiving adequate support themselves. If you can relate to this and are worried about your own health and wellbeing call our Helpline on 08 088 088 088.

So How Can You Spot the Signs a Friend or Colleague is Being Abused?

There are a variety of signals or things to look out for, that might suggest your colleague is enduring domestic abuse. If you are concerned about the wellbeing of a team member and are not sure how to help you can call our FREE helpline on 08 088 088 088 in confidence.

Things to look out for:

  • Are there obvious signs of physical injury for example frequent bruises, scratches or broken bones?
  • Changes in behaviour – have they become unusually quiet or withdrawn?
  • Do they avoid being around others, make excuses to get out of office parties for example?
  • Are they showing evidence of increased fatigue, anxiety, sudden change in weight or appearance?
  • Do they seem to receive unusually frequent telephone calls, emails or text messages from their partner checking up on them?
  • Are they frequently late or absent from work?
  • Did your colleague unexpectedly quit their job?
  • Have they suddenly stopped talking about their partner?
  • Do they get frightened when their partner is angry?
  • Have they started wearing different, more concealing clothes to work?
  • Are there signs your colleague has increased the use of alcohol or illicit and prescription drugs?
  • Does their partner appear to make all the decisions for both of them and demonstrate overly controlling behaviours?
  • Have you noticed their partner show inappropriate anger or jealousy?

How Does A Survivor Feel?

Men and women who endure domestic abuse can feel overwhelmed by fear, struggle with a lack of confidence, feel embarrassed and isolated.  Life can feel like you are treading on egg-shells all the time, living with a fear that governs your every move.  This could be a fear of further attacks, a fear of financial loss, even having nowhere to live.  Fearing for your safety and that  of your children every hour of every day.

A survivor can feel like this abuse is in some-way their fault, feel ashamed and guilty.  They are likely to feel hopeless, unable to make decisions or reach out to make changes.

However, a survivor is also likely to feel conflicted, as they may still experience feelings of love for their partner whilst hating the violence or controlling behaviour at the same time.

So, what can you do to support your colleague?

  • Try to start a conversation and encourage them to open up.  Be prepared to try several times to encourage them to confide in you.
  • Don’t be afraid to be direct when discussing your concerns for example, “I’m worried about you because…”
  • Try not to judge or criticise your friend or colleague for how they respond or behave. Don’t tell them what to do, just offer suggestions.
  • Always listen carefully and demonstrate that you support them and believe them,
  • Reassure your colleague that this abuse is NOT their fault.
  • Remind your colleague that you are there for them to listen and do what you can to help.
  • Be considerate of the fact that standing up to abuse or leaving an abuser takes a great deal of strength and courage. There are often huge obstacles such as having nowhere else to go, no money and people can feel they have no-one to turn to for support. Abuse survivors often fear that they won’t be believed and are extremely concerned about the repercussions on themselves or their children.
  • Try to acknowledge your colleague’s strengths, offer support, and remind them how well they are coping.  Be patient.
  • Importantly, if your colleague or friend has not spoken to anyone else, encourage them to seek the help of a local domestic violence agency that understands what they are going through and offers specialist support and advice.  Give them our number for FREE confidential advice 08 088 088 088.
  • Try to help them to stay safe for example, choose a code word or action that is only known to you both, so they can signal if they are in danger. Agree a simple and achievable plan of action to get your colleague to safety in the event of this code word being used.
  • Try to support your friend or colleague’s independence by offering to keep spare sets of keys, important documents, such as passports, benefit books, and even a few spare clothes in a safe place so that they can access them quickly in an emergency.
  • Finally, try to document any evidence of violence or abuse that you witness, including its effects.  This could significantly help in future court proceedings or housing applications.

We hope this guide to spotting the signs that your friend or colleague is enduring domestic abuse is helpful and informative. Sadly, statistically it is extremely likely that one or more of your colleagues, male or female, is living in an abusive relationship. Try to pay attention to changes in the behaviour of your team and if you have any concerns refer to this blog to help you know how to intervene appropriately.

If you are worried about how to help your friend or colleague, please contact us. Call Herts Domestic Abuse Helpline for advice and support.  Our FREE confidential helpline is set up to support anyone who is impacted directly or indirectly by Domestic Abuse.  Call 08 088 088 088 to speak to a local expert who can offer bespoke advice and signposting to the most appropriate agency support.