Domestic Abuse and the Workplace. A collection of notes.

Years ago I wrote a toolkit for managers.  One page guidance on a whole range of topics that might come up in the day to day, from how to do a return to work interview to what to do when someone raised a grievance.  One of those simple ‘how to’ guides was about domestic violence.  I wasn’t an expert.  I had simply lifted some good practice advice and signposted some sources of help and support.  A few months later I went to the ladies toilet in one of our offices.  On the wall was the domestic violence one page guidance.  I talked about it with one of my HR colleagues.  We hadn’t asked anyone to put it up.  HR hadn’t done it.  My assumption was that a concerned colleague had been responsible.  Maybe they thought this was a private space where someone could note down a number. Maybe someone was trying to send a signal.  I really don’t know.  But I know that no one ever took it down.  It was there for years.  I have no idea if it ever reached the intended recipient, but I have never forgotten it.

Today I’ve been on a training course about supporting staff experiencing domestic abuse. I want to share a little of what I learned during a day that both challenged, angered and saddened me.

What is domestic abuse? All too often a silent epidemic.  According to the WHO, 1 in 3 women will experience physical abuse in their lifetimes, worldwide.  In the UK, 1 in 5 children have been exposed to some sort of domestic abuse.  Those children will carry that trauma into their adulthood.  1 in 5 teenagers have been abused by a boyfriend or girlfriend.  1 in 4 women, 1 in 6 men experience domestic abuse.  It is not just men who perpetrate and women who endure.  It’s not just about spouses and partners.  It happens between siblings, parents and children.  Elder abuse is an issue too.  2 women a week are killed by a partner or former partner.

Domestic abuse includes power and control, coercion, stalking, financial, emotional and physical abuse, sexual abuse. It includes honour based violence and female genital mutilation.  It often has an escalatory element.  When you see a poster of someone with a black eye, that is an anomaly.  It isn’t always physical, and when it is, it is more often on a part of the body that can’t be seen.

Although not typical in all relationships, there is often a cycle of abuse. At the start of the relationship things are great.  But there might be a strong, quick involvement.  Early ‘I love yous’.  Significant amounts of attention.  Then comes the tension building stage.  Arguments, emotional and psychological abuse, criticism, name-calling, intimidation, minor physical abuse.  All this starts to create fear.  There are ‘I’m sorrys’.  The final stage is the acute battering stage.  Verbal, physical or sexual violence, leaving the individual wounded either physically or psychologically.  The cycle continues, but the frequency speeds up.  Domestic abuse can be systematic, deliberate.

Societal views are a problem. Why doesn’t she just leave?  It wouldn’t happen in this family.  Boys will be boys.  She’s too smart to let this happen.  It’s a substance abuse issue.  It’s a women’s issue.  She was asking for it. We call it domestic abuse, but it isn’t just about what happens at home, it happens everywhere.  These are the narratives and perceptions that we need to change.

So why don’t people leave? A question so often asked. Full of judgement.  But the answers are complex.  Shame, fear, confidence, money, children, having nowhere to go.  It is of course, also dangerous.  The most dangerous time where physical violence is concerned.

Why is important to include workplaces when tackling domestic abuse?  75% of people who are abused are targeted at work.  They are in a known place.  This targeting might include excessive phone calls or texts in the workplace.  It might include unwanted visits. It’s about increased absence and presenteeism.  It’s about the resulting depression and stress.  It impacts colleagues and performance too.  Domestic abuse costs the UK economy 1.9billion a year.  So this is very much a workplace issue.

What do employers need to do?

First of all, you need to give people permission to talk about this stuff, because some people just don’t want to go there. Why don’t people tell their employer? Lots of reasons.  They don’t know who to tell.  They don’t see it as a workplace issue.  They are scared of being judged.  They are worried about what people will think.  So first of all, we need to create the knowledge that this is a conversation you can have at your workplace.

When people do leave an abusive relationship, there are many implications. Just on a practical level, you often leave everything behind. Money can be an immediate problem. Safety too.  A good employer and manager can help someone navigate through this time period.  You can take practical steps.  If you have an EAP, use it – remind people that it is there.  Be flexible about hours of work.  Talk to the individual about they need.  Address security concerns if you need to.  Divert phone calls.  Change phone numbers. Move locations.  Consider discretionary time off.  Think about where you have meetings; can people be seen from the street?  Do the walls have glass? Help people move bank accounts quickly.

There are warning signs to watch out for. People who don’t want to go home. A change in appearance.  Withdrawal.  Absence.  Never taking a holiday.  Changes in behaviour. Changes in weight.  Change of clothing style.  Actual physical signs of violence.

Some other things to think about……

Start with the language that you use. Don’t use the word victim to describe someone enduring domestic abuse.  It’s a label.  It isn’t all of who the person is. It can be a word that stops people moving forward.  It has judgement.  Allow people to define their own language.

It will take time. You will need to work with people for a while.  The manager will need to be involved.  HR too.  There are boundaries to find.  There are some things that an employer should do, must do.  We need to empower people, not disempower them. Encourage people to take steps, not do it for them.  Don’t advise – it’s not our place.  Keep records.  If stuff happens on your premises, record it.  It may help the individual in due course to have that information.  Get the input of professionals.  Refer, direct, signpost, support.  Walk by their side.  Always listen.

There are many people in an organisation that might find themselves talking to someone about domestic abuse. It  might be a manager, someone in HR, a colleague, occupational health.  The person might be approaching someone for the very first time.  Can you educate or train the person who might get that disclosure?  Can you provide resources that they can access on demand, when they need them?  There may also be people who are witnesses or concerned colleagues who may also need information, someone to ask for advice.

The manager is critical. They may be the one that sees the signs. They may be the one that gets the disclosure.  They may need to get involved in support or decision making.  They will need support too, and this is where HR will come in.  Some will need guidance on policies or what discretion they can exercise.  They might also need someone to check in with them too, as this is not easy stuff to deal with.

Giving permission to talk about this stuff raises awareness. It  might also mean that you hold up a mirror to something previously unseen.  That your employees see that this might be them too, perhaps for the first time.  The facilitators today told us stories about how often this happens.  By going on training, reading guidance, seeing examples of just what domestic abuse includes, sometimes people will realise they need help.  Be ready.  You may need to move quickly in these situations.

The final thought….. employers can be part of a whole system approach. They are part of the solution. We don’t know who is experiencing this stuff, what challenges people are facing when they go home at the end of the working day.  There is much we can do. Employers can help save people’s lives.  And we start with awareness.  We start with action.  We start with all of us.  This stuff is hard.  But there is hope.

 

The training was provided by the Corporate Alliance Against Domestic Violence. You can find their website here.  I cannot recommend it more highly.

The top, the middle and the bottom

This morning I was at an event talking about wellbeing in the workplace. Again.

Someone said to me that wellbeing started at the top. That senior leaders needed to take action for anything to change.

Well yes. And no.

Wellbeing in the workplace is a three part relationship: organisation, manager, employee.

The organisation can set the strategy. Provide the direction and the resources and give permission.  They can tackle the big stuff; the systemic and structural issues that exist within the culture, and help others to do the same.  Senior leaders have a significant role to play here too, particularly when it comes to acting as role models and challenging negative behaviours.

The people manager has an even more critical role.  As Prof Sir Cary Cooper said at the same event, managers can be dangerous to your health. Managers can have a significant impact on the wellbeing of the people that work for them.  How they communicate, the deadlines that the set, the support that they provide, the emails that they send, the flexibility that they will allow.  They can enable, and they can detract.  This is why training on wellbeing issues is critical for everyone who holds a people management role, from the practical to the bigger picture stuff, wherever they sit in the hierarchy.

Finally, it is about each and every individual.  When it comes to our wellbeing, if we don’t take ownership of it, then who will?  There are things that we cannot control or influence, but much that we can.  We always have choice in how we respond.

Wellbeing doesn’t start at the top. It starts there, at the bottom, from the sides and everywhere in between.  We all have a part to play.  Every one of us can positively (or otherwise) impact the wellbeing of someone else by the way that we choose to behave, interact, communicate or support.

Wellbeing starts with you, and with me too.

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A year in (book) review

At the beginning of 2018, I set myself a target to read 100 books. I can’t for the life of me remember why.  I didn’t make the number.  I did read 65 (and 1/3) though, which isn’t too bad.  For completeness, I also read 52 editions of Take a Break magazine, quite a lot about learning theory for my post graduate course, and a large amount of children’s books (aloud as bedtime stories, I’m not weird).

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The books have been, as ever, a real mix. Some serious stuff, some HR related stuff, some fitness stuff and some utter beachside romantic trash.  But I thought maybe someone out there (hi Mum) might be interested in a few recommendations.  So out of everything I read this year, these were my favourites.

Eve Was Shamed, Helena Kennedy

I read Eve Was Framed whilst at University, at the age of 20. It had a significant impact on me, and how I viewed the world.  It made me a feminist.  I was then thrilled to find that Helena Kennedy had written a follow up book.  This is the story about how British justice is failing women. It is brilliant, depressing and frightening.  I cannot recommend it more highly.

Deeds Not Words – the story of women’s rights then and now, Helen Pankhurst

The title says it all. A journey from the suffragettes to #metoo. A historical perspective as well as a call to action.  Statistics, quotes, facts.  Another great read (I may be saying this a lot).

The Elemental Workplace, Neil Usher.

I am a fan of everything Neil Usher writes, so this was always going to be a favourite. The impact of the physical space and place in which people work, in my humble opinion, is all too often overlooked by HR professionals.  It shouldn’t be.  This book is a must read for anyone who works in HR.

The Angry Chef, Anthony Warner

When I am not doing HR or social media stuff, I am also a Personal Trainer and Wellbeing Coach. I have a keen interest in diet and fitness BS, of which there is plenty.  This is a brilliant take down of much of it.  Never go on a diet regime or start an eating plan without reading this.

The Wonder Stuff Diaries (Vol 1), Miles Hunt

I love the Wonder Stuff. Their music is wrapped around my life.  So I thoroughly enjoyed this insight into the early years of the band based on the diaries of lead singer Miles.  I’m already onto Volume 2 which is just as good, and taking me on a trip down memory lane.

In Your Defence – Stories of Life and Law, Sarah Langford

A criminal law barrister, Sarah Langford describes some of her real life cases and the real people behind the legal processes. Beautifully written with both humour and compassion for the people involved in the stories.

Stories of the Law and How It’s Broken, the Secret Barrister.

I guess if you haven’t heard of this you have been living under a rock. This should be read by pretty much everyone.

Born to Run, Christopher McDougall

I do love a fitness book. To read the stories of others who have achieved amazing things with their bodies is inspirational.  This one is about the ultra runners.  Those folks that run unbelievable distances, putting their bodies under extreme pressure.  I’m never going to be one of those people, but I can marvel at them from the sofa.

Hired – Six Months in Low Wage Britain, James Bloodworth

This is another of those books that HR professionals ought to read, but that also should make each of us reflect as consumers. What does it mean, for the person at the other end of the process, when we click ‘buy’ on our Amazon order?  What is it really like to try and make a living driving an Uber?  And what is it like to not know where the next pay cheque or gig is coming from?  A sobering read.

Feminist Fight Club, Jessica Bennett

A survival manual for a sexist workplace (and world). Funny, thought provoking and practical.  If you work and you are a woman there is something in here for you.

Columbo – Seasons Greetings

This is a late addition, the final book I completed this year. Columbo is my guilty pleasure.  My wonderful OH tracked this down in a rare book store.  Written in 1972 and being very much of its time, this provided an amusing Boxing Day afternoon – but let’s just say the author could have benefit from a little bit more of the feminist reading I’ve covered…..

This is the first time I have kept a list of the books that I’ve read over a time period.  It has been interesting to go back – some of them I can’t recall at all, others have taught me new things, others have moved me.  There is already a 2019 stack by the side of my bed.  See you next year……

From resources to human beings #cipdace

John Amaechi believes that HR is increasingly becoming the moral compass of an organisation, with a responsibility to preserve organisational integrity.  I really don’t know how I feel about this. On one hand there have been times during my carer that I’ve been the person in the room arguing from feeling, arguing for the right thing to do.  But should we need a moral compass? What does it say about our organisations if we do?  Should integrity be the role of a department – or everyone’s responsibility?

This talk is about how we humanise our workforce to develop healthy and ethical organisations.  I’ve never liked the ‘resources’ part of HR. It’s not how I think of people, it’s not how I want people to think about me. So I’m listening.

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This is what John has to say.

We are custodians of culture.  Senior colleagues often think that our job is to create compliance, procedure, policy, legal frameworks.  We know that stress is everywhere.  People are constantly talking about AI and robotics. These conversations seem to be about making robots who look and behave like humans.  Think about what we already have – Alexa and Siri.  We have gendered AI right from the beginning.  We aren’t asking Alexa to tackle the big problems, just to turn the lights on and off.

We are turning our people into things in our workplace.  We are allowing it to happen.  It is being caused by our environments and our leaders.

All too often we treat our people like vending machines.  Like job descriptions.  We make them feel invisible.  We don’t see them or hear them unless we need something from them.  Do this, do that. We don’t see them as individuals, but we so need to do so.

Go on any company website.  They will all say the same sort of thing about their values. About how they are diverse and inclusive.  That want people to feel engaged. They want innovative thinking.  We have a great working environment at our place.

These are supposed to illustrate what it is like to be in our organisations.  As people who work with people, we have to maintain some congruence between the rhetoric of our statements and the reality.  How many people believe their company values – research suggests about 27%.  For many, the promise and the experience are disparate.

If we are in a relationship with someone and the lie to us, we leave.  If we promise values, experience, but then do not deliver, people will move on.

We have values, but then allow people to behave like jerks and not live them. We allow people to poison these values. If managers allow or create toxic environments, we will remember, we will not forgive them.

HR must be the custodian. We have organisations that are saying the right things, now it is time to make sure we live up to them.

Right now, disruption roars around us.  Leaders that roar should be resisted. It is tempting at times of disruption to look to autocrats, people who a strong, give orders. There are still too many people like this in senior positions.

You are more powerful in HR than you think. People may want to put you in your place. We may think that our actions are inconsequential.  This isn’t so. People will look to us to set the tone and live the values in our organisation.  We have a dual responsibility to not only do our jobs but deliver the promised experience.

Because no one will work for someone that lies to them.  This is how we reverse the trend of low productivity, low engagement.  We have to do this all the time.

We cannot predict and prepare for the important moments.  We cannot always see them coming, we do not even always know when they happen until after they have gone. We must always be vigilant and mindful.

We must always make time to connect with people.  Give them moments of our time.  Human connection is what will make us thrive, not policy and procedure.  Whether we see each other as real people.  We must demand it of ourselves and our colleagues, all the time.

I loved this session.  It was delivered with humour and style, and personal reflection. There were no slides (I love this).  There is nothing to disagree with.

In HR we have a unique position. We can create the culture.  We might not always think that we can, but we do have influence – perhaps in ways we do not always appreciate.  Whatever our context and situation, whatever our organisational power, there is something else that we can do – we can role model.  I know it is a cliché, but we can truly be the change that we want to see – at work if not in the whole world.  Even if the people around us don’t live the values, we can. Even if the people around us don’t uphold an ethical approach, we can.   Whether we realise it or not, people will look to us, will see our shadow.

If I didn’t believe these things, then I wouldn’t do the work that I do.

It is also a cliché to talk about putting the human into human resources.  But after listening to this talk, it doesn’t suddenly feel quite so stale.

This is a live blog post. Please ignore any typos!

 

Back to Human #CIPDACE

I’m at the CIPD conference listening to author Dan Schawbel. He’s talking about how technology has created the illusion that we are connected at work, but, while useful, virtual communication has contributed to a greater sense of isolation than ever before.

Now as a social media enthusiast I instinctively dislike this suggestion.  Social media is where I met my partner and some of my very favourite people.  It is where I found my tribe, my community of practice, my PLN.  I passionately believe in the power of technology to connect us at work and beyond, regardless of geography, access, timezones.

So…. will I like when he has to say?

robot

Dan argues:

The illusion of connection is that we are forming strong bonds but they are weak ties. Voice is gone, you have to send a text message.  We look at our phones every 12 minutes (Note from me- nah, more than that). Technology and apps and devices are designed to get us addicted. The more we use them, the more we tap our phones, the more money organisations make.

Half of Americans would rather break a bone than their phone. Technology is a double edged sword. We need to know when, where and how to use it.  We need to ensure we aren’t overusing it.  If you are in a meeting or a social event and looking at your phone, you are not present.  You are physically there but not in any other way.  So why did you bother showing up? Do you panic if you have no mobile signal? We miss moments as we are so busy posting pictures on Instagram or Facebook, looking for likes from people who aren’t there, that we might not even like.

Not having your phone is the new vacation.  We are lacking human connection.

Remote working is something that is increasing.  We talk about benefits of it, but not the dark side.  We can save on commuting costs and time.  It is the most desired benefit – but at the same time this privilege to work wherever we want has come with its inbuilt issues.  Remote working can impact team commitment and connection.

We are addicted to email. We would rather send an email than talk to people. (Note from me – yes, I would. Don’t ring me).

You can have a lot of Facebook friends, but are they real friends, or are we lonely?

Work is impacting our life.  We need to recognise people as people and not workers – and this is going to become even more important as the technology in our work and lives increases.

We need to integrate our lives with our work.

Social integration is important, but we are removing it from our society.  Consider self service checkouts.  We don’t have to engage with another human being.

With all the talk about technology taking over jobs, what matters is our humanity – what makes you, you.  Use technology where it appropriate, but stick to being human.

There are four key employee engagement factors that relate to each other.  The first one is trust.  The second is belonging – people want to feel that they belong at work.  Third is purpose – people need a reason to go to work every day.  Finally, happiness.  Without these factors this is not a healthy environment.

People want to bring their full selves into the workplace, and we have to meet them where we are.  We need to get back to human.

 

I just don’t know how I feel about this whole session……..  I get that we need breaks from work.  I get that technology can be as problematic as it is freeing and positive.  But I have genuinely never felt the need for a digital detox.  My phone is where my friends are, where I connect, learn and engage with people I wish I could see more but can’t.  It is the place where I see my beautiful god-daughter every day, even though she is geographically far away.

For me, it isn’t the technology but how we use it.  We do have agency and choice.  Remote working doesn’t have to mean working from home everyday, not connecting with others.  It can be part of a mix.  Technology doesn’t have to prevent communication and discussion, but facilitate it.  Being in the office can also be isolating, depending on where and how you work.

So much of this is contextual.  What works for one person, doesn’t work for everyone.  not everyone needs or wants work friendships.  Not everyone has a lot of transactional Facebook friends.

For some of us (e.g. me) chatting to my friends in my social spaces, through my phone, makes me happy.

Using technology doesn’t mean we aren’t empathic.  It doesn’t mean we can’t bring our whole self to work.

This stuff is undoubtedly complex.  Late night and weekend emailing can be pressuring, damaging to health, indicative of problematic organisational culture.  It could be that someone is working flexibly at a time that works for them, when they feel most energised.  What we need to do is empower people.  To turn off the tech when they need to.  To work when and how they need to, but at the same time tell others that this doesn’t mean that they need to do the same.  If your phone and the technology isn’t serving you well, put it down.  You have choice.  I don’t want me emails to be automatically deleted because I am on holiday, or my colleagues to be banned from emailing me out of hours – I am an adult.  And that just perpetuates the idea that there are ‘normal’ working hours rather than recognising that a healthy, balanced approach might mean I can work when it works for me.

Connect in person. Connect virtually.  Both, for me, are human.

Reflect.

Put down your phone if you need to. And if you don’t feel that you have a problem, then proceed as you were.

This is a live blog.  Please ignore any typos!

 

CPD and HR #CIPDACE

I’ve attended a focus group this afternoon, looking at CPD support for the profession. The focus group asked us what support we would like the CIPD to provide to members.  We talked too about whether any learning should be mandated, what are the barriers to CPD, whether CPD should be recognised and what, if any, consequences should be if people just don’t bother.  All good questions – but one that is being asked to an already engaged audience.

This is a soapbox moment for me.  I get hugely frustrated with HR professionals who don’t seek to develop themselves. Our work, our context, our understanding about people, is constantly evolving.  And so should we be.  This isn’t the sort of profession where you can learn something on a course and it will still be working for you a decade later.

CPD should not be an optional extra. I still meet HR people (I deliberately didn’t use the word ‘professional’) who don’t do any learning.  They almost take pride in the pile of unread magazines on their office table.  To refuse to learn, is a form of arrogance.

I don’t buy ‘I don’t have time’.  We all find time for the things we really want to do.  That is why there are more people in the gym than the pub.

Whilst I am writing this from a conference, you don’t have to do that thing if it’s not your thing. Read books, blogs, journals, articles.  Get on Twitter and follow some thought leaders, join a Twitter chat, lurk and learn.  Listen to a podcast.  Go to an employment law update, a local CIPD event, or just watch a Ted Talk.  Just do something.

We have a responsibility to our profession and our organisations to continually learn, in order to be the best HR professional that we can be.

Opinionated?  Me?

I’m not even sorry.

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Bullying and Harassment – what would you do? #CIPDACE

Dealing with bullying and harassment has always been part of the not so nice side of working in HR.  We all know this stuff happens.  But we are hearing more and more stories, more and more people coming forward and saying…. this happened to me.

me too

There isn’t always a clear cut way to deal with any particular situation – and the HR role isn’t always an easy one. How should we approach issues that are raised?  How best to investigate? Should we show zero tolerance or be more lenient?  How can we balance the needs of individuals and organisations?

In this conference session we are exploring a scenario to ‘flex our ethical muscles’.  We are being led by Kate Griffiths-Lambeth, Inji Duducu and Julie Denis.

We discuss and debate a fictional case study.

How do we approach situations where there are no witnesses?  Because there so often aren’t.  How do we best support both the individual raising concerns and the individual to whom the allegations are addressed? Both have needs whilst a process is on-going.  How do we preserve the reputation or the organisation – is radical transparency the way forward – or should we be in protection mode?  How do we identify cultures where bullying and harassment are the norm – are they obvious, hiding in plain sight where many people know what is going on and keep the silence, or are they under the radar?  Where is the line between robust performance management and bullying? And just what is the role of HR in all of this?

The issue of the NDA comes up, something that has been in the press of late.  Should we use them, or are they just a tool that a serial harasser can hide behind?

Inji makes an important point.  So many cases are essentially one version of events is positioned against another.  This is where detailed, specific training is of benefit.  To help you be as thorough as possible, to look for that important, nuanced detail.

Julie Dennis tells us that what happens in one specific investigation is just part of the story.  It is also what you do afterwards, and the extent to which you publically state your intentions, set your organisational standards and address inappropriate behaviour when it is identified.

For what they are worth, here are my thoughts.

There are no easy answers to this stuff.  Cases are rarely clear cut.

We are fundamentally talking about culture, and power.  Hard to change, hard to challenge.

Coming forward is hard. Bringing a complaint, going through the formal process, harder still.  For this reason, it isn’t just the accused that can sometimes welcome a settlement agreement.

In HR, we can come under pressure to make this stuff go away.  To clear it up. Prioritise the business.  The easy option is to comply – it’s not just those who are on the receiving end of inappropriate behaviour that are fearful about standing up – HR can be too.  In those cases that have hit the headlines, behind the high profile, accused individual is probably a HR person sorting out the detail – and lots of other people who know what is really going on.

At the same time, we are often the people that know when there is a problem in this space.  We see the attrition and sickness data, we hear the rumours.  People ask if they can talk to us ‘in confidence’.

As HR professionals, we have a duty of care when we do what we do.  As Inji says, it is our job to get to the truth – even though this can sometimes be easier said than done.

Our job is to be fair, reasonable, impartial.  Our job is to advise and guide the organisation, and make sure that process stuff gets done properly.  I also believe it is our job to stand up.  Stand up and speak up. Zero tolerance.  Call out the inappropriate behaviour, the banter, the person that think’s it is okay to misuse their power. For that is how we affect real change.  How we make a real difference.

This is how we move from Me Too to No More.

This is a live blog from the CIPD Conference.  Please ignore any typos.