I have often fantasied about there being domestic violence policies when I was working in corporate whilst at the same time as being in an abusive relationship.
Would that support mean a different outcome for me?
Could I have kept my career?
Would I have had the support I needed to leave my abusive partner earlier?
I had a boss who knew and was supportive, back then her going to HR was not really an option as they probably would not have been supportive. Back then abuse in the home was not something that was discussed, it was a secret to be kept locked behind closed doors.
The last few years this has changed in Australia and overseas. Violence in the home is now something we are now open to discussing.
Two-thirds of Australian companies have policies.
In Australia over a third of companies have domestic violence policies in which they give support to their employees. Given my past and how much the support of my boss meant to me it is hard to put into words just how grateful I feel that this is now the environment in which those subjected to domestic violence are working.
Good communication is key
But and it is a big but, it also worries me. Because there will be a perception by those seeking support of being understood by their managers or supervisors. And this is where I think it could be harmful if the manager is not trained in the complexities of domestic violence and how to feel comfortable talking about it there is a void between the employee’s expectation and the reality.
Abuse makes you doubt your own reality
Being in an abusive relationship is confusing and it is the elements of emotional and psychological abuse that in a large part created this confusion. When I left my abusive partner, I was unsure if what I had been through even constituted abuse; which looking back now seems incredible – but minimising by my partner had me doubting my own reality.
So, imagine someone in that state of mind going to a manager who doesn’t feel comfortable talking about it and has no clue what to say. The employee seeking advice could see it as a sign they are exaggerating or worse still that they are not believed.
This could create a situation where they feel it was wrong to seek support, that it is better to be quiet. That these policies are for those who are really going through abuse. This could prevent them from seeking further support, leaving them trapped and isolated in an abusive relationship.
Empathy is more powerful than sympathy
In my situation, my boss was so supportive, helped me find somewhere to live, she went above and beyond for me. Although without proper training she did not realise that it takes on average seven times to leave an abusive partner and there was a statistically high chance of my returning to my abusive partner; which I did.
It became awkward and uncomfortable
This led to a communication breakdown. I felt like I had let her down (years of abuse had led to a belief it was my job to please) and my boss felt like she had forced me to leave my partner. Which led to awkward encounters in hallways and tea rooms. In meetings, we would consciously try not to sit anywhere that would involve eye contact. Ultimately it led to my leaving my job because I was embarrassed and ashamed. And between us, we did not have the skills to communicate about the abuse I was living with effectively.
Training builds understanding and empathy
So, I am worried policies will encourage conversations managers are not trained to handle. Teaching managers to understand the complexities of domestic violence, the signs and how to effectively communicate is essential. Policies are one half of the coin, training is the other.