Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has announced that domestic violence victims can receive ten days of paid leave from Wednesday. “It will be such an important day and an overdue one,” Mr Albanese said in a media conference on Tuesday. “No woman should ever have to pick between her financial security and the physical and emotional wellbeing of herself or of her .”
Having worked with many victims of domestic or family violence/abuse in my career, this new legislation got me thinking about the impact of domestic or family violence/abuse in the workplace.
How to identify a domestic or family violence/abuse victim in the workplace
A study by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare in 2016 indicated that 1 in 6 women and 1 in 16 men report having experienced physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15. In addition to that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men report having experienced emotional abuse since the age of 15.
Domestic or family violence is not just physical it can also be psychological/emotional abuse and the impact on an individual will vary in intensity, but be assured, the impact is usually long lasting.
Some of the less obvious signs that someone may be experiencing domestic/family violence/abuse include:
- Lack of focus
- Struggling to learn/develop new skills
- Reluctance to take part in team or social events
- Preference to work alone
- Inconsistent quality of work
- Absenteeism or tardiness
- Excessive number of personal calls/texts during the work day
- Changes in behaviour
- Overly emotional responses/outburst
- Coming in early or staying late without being asked (avoiding going home)
Domestic or family violence/abuse is shaped in many forms and is not just about male to female abuse, it encompasses female to male, male to male, female to female and child to parent or grandparent abuse. Whatever the demographic the destruction done to the brain and body can be permanent if not
The neuroscience of domestic or family violence/abuse
The trauma of domestic or family violence/abuse can negatively affect the way an individual behaves in everyday situations.
Long-term abuse puts the victim in a state of chronic stress which you can read more about here.
The amygdala is what I refer to as the CEO of all emotional content stored in the brain, controlling our emotions and survival instincts. Victims of domestic violence often have a hyperactive amygdala which is so attuned to identifying possible threats that they may have a fearful response to something that would seem harmless to others.
Living in a near constant state of fight or flight means the pre-frontal cortex which is responsible for regulation of thoughts and emotions as well as decision-making is inhibited. This explains why you may see changes in behaviour at work or emotional responses if someone is experiencing domestic/family violence.
The hippocampus, which is the memory centre of the brain, is affected when the amygdala is working overtime. Domestic/family violence/abuse victims may have trouble remembering things or may have overly vivid memories of traumatic events. These memories can be triggered by the smallest reminder and can induce stress, anxiety, fear, and panic. When the hippocampus is not operating in its natural capacity, learning or developing new skills becomes much more difficult.
How to help a domestic or family violence/abuse victim in the workplace
For many victims of domestic or family violence/abuse, work is a safe-haven and working provides them with some sense of “normality” to their lives.
As an employer or leader, if you suspect one of your team members may be experiencing domestic violence, how you handle the situation is vitally important.
The fair work ombudsmen in Australia has a very helpful Employer guide to family and domestic violence which outlines steps you can take to prepare for such a situation as well as what to do when you do suspect your team may be a victim of domestic or family violence/abuse.
The most important thing is to ensure you have open lines of communication to allow your team member to feel safe and supported.
With the new legislation that has been introduced, Australian domestic or family violence/abuse victims will be able to access 10 days paid leave which will allow them to make arrangements for their safety, attend court hearings, attend medical/financial/legal/counselling appointments or access police services. Ensuring you are supportive of your employee during this time will go a long way in helping them to transition into a safer environment.
It is advisable to obtain training around the handling of such situations for your leaders which is something we offer at Brain Potential.
At Brain Potential, we support Beauty for Ashes Refuges which was formed in response to the number of women fleeing domestic or family abuse who are unable to access refuge due to their immigration status.
We understand domestic and family abuse and feel quite passionately about helping forward-thinking leaders to gain an understanding of how they can recognise and best support team members through such situations.
If you feel that you would benefit from learning more in this area, we would love to hear from you.
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