Opinion: Business leaders play role in ending domestic violence

Truth Be Told

Posted online

The faces of domestic violence might surprise you. While the abuse may occur behind closed doors, the implications extend far beyond the home, and our workplaces are certainly no exception.

Advocacy organizations report as many as 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men are directly affected by domestic violence. But this issue truly impacts us all. The chances are high you work with someone who’s survived domestic violence or is currently suffering from it.

Springfield Business Journal has supported Harmony House’s iCare movement for the past several years. The awareness and fundraising campaign has successfully shifted domestic violence from a taboo topic to one that this community’s largest businesses and top community leaders put their influence and dollars behind.

As the oldest domestic violence shelter in the state, Harmony House has long had support from the community. But when iCare launched in 2015, you could feel the change in the conversation. Domestic violence went from being someone else’s problem to our problem. It went from someone else’s story to our story.

And the numbers back that up. Just about all domestic violence survivors report their work performance suffered as a consequence of abuse, and 60% report losing their jobs because of it, according to research from the Society for Human Resource Management and Workplaces Respond: National Resource Center. Research shows this adds up to cost our economy $8.3 billion each year in health care costs and lost productivity. And there’s the incalculable personal loss faced by survivors or the ones who are left behind.

People have always been the heart of our organizations, and their value is heightened in this tight labor market. The iCare campaign has exposed employers to the impact domestic violence has on their workplaces and how they can help their employees. We can’t look away anymore as business leaders. The secret is out.

Here are some tips from Harmony House on how employers can help their employees facing domestic violence:

  1. Don’t ignore the evidence. Signs of domestic abuse include an employee having difficulty focusing at work, repeated absences and frequent physical injuries.
  2. Allow for flexible scheduling. Support an employee if they need to go to the police station, attend court proceedings, see a doctor, find emergency shelter or set up a new bank account.
  3. Put emergency protocols in place. Be prepared if an abuser shows up at your workplace. Establish visitor sign-in policies and implement crisis planning.
  4. Examine health care coverage. Do you offer good mental health benefits and an employee assistance program that provides counseling services?
  5. Show compassion. Abuse can happen to anyone.
  6. Change the culture. Based on the statistics, if you have women and men working at your company who are survivors of abuse, you likely also have women and men who have perpetrated abuse. Create a zero-tolerance policy within your company for bullying and harassment.

Harmony House’s iCare campaign happens throughout October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and culminates on Oct. 29 when thousands of people across the community will rally in their businesses and organizations to say “iCare.” Nonprofit leaders will kick off the campaign with a breakfast on Sept. 29, which also will unveil the Standing Together portraits and stories project by local photographer Randy Bacon. It will be a powerful event, and I’d invite you to join me there and sign up to be a business or individual supporter.

In full disclosure, I’m co-chair of this year’s iCare event. It’s been a privilege to share the responsibilities with Cheryl Briggs, co-owner of DermaHealth Laser & Skin Care Clinic. Of course, we hope for success with this year’s campaign, but even more important to me is what is possible after this campaign has closed: more funds to help Harmony House shelter and counsel survivors and heightened awareness among business leaders to support employees facing abuse.

Everyone deserves to be safe and be free of fear in their own homes. Harmony House helps eliminate barriers of why people say they can’t leave these situations by giving them safety and resources. This is a chance at a better life. A chance to live. Thanks to all of you who are willing to be part of that honorable mission.

Springfield Business Journal Executive Editor Christine Temple can be reached at ctemple@sbj.net.