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Australian workplaces need to better recognise the impacts of domestic and family violence in the workplace,  a new Monash University study says.

The report, by Dr Emma McNicol, Professor Kate Fitz-Gibbon and Sally Brewer, found there was a critical need for all Australian industries and workplaces to develop and introduce workplace support systems to mitigate the impacts of victimisation on work participation, and better support employees experiencing domestic violence. 

DFV is increasingly recognised as a national crisis. One in three women have experienced physical violence since the age of 15 and one in five women have experienced sexual violence. 

The report significantly advances Australia’s evidence base on how best to understand and respond to DFV within the workplace.

The study, based on an anonymous survey of 3,000 victim-survivors working across a range of industries in Australia, has examined how their experiences of DFV impacted their employment and the workplace response they received, if any.

“The findings of this national study further evidence the myriad of ways in which DFV profoundly impacts the working lives of victim-survivors. The results show that DFV impacts victim-survivors’ immediate participation in current employment while also impacting future employment prospects,” says the report’s lead author, Dr McNicol. 

Of the 3000 participants, a staggering 2,515 victim-survivors reported that their job was impacted by their experience of DFV.  The study also found that: 

  • 1 in 2 victim-survivors reported that DFV negatively impacted their career progression and opportunities.

  • 2 in 3 victim-survivors reported that DFV impacted their ability to concentrate at work.

  • 2 in 5 victim-survivors reported that DFV impacted their productivity and ability to enjoy their job. 

  • 1 in 3 victim-survivors reported that DFV led them to socially withdraw from co-workers.

  • 1 in 4 victim-survivors reported that DFV impacted their punctuality for work. 

Co-author, Professor Kate Fitz-Gibbon, said these results reveal the significant impacts of DFV on an individual’s capacity to fulfil the expectations of their role. 

“Understanding the link between DFV and reduced work performance is essential to inform workplace support practice and policies, ensuring that victim-survivors are not subjected to performance management or at risk of demotion or employment termination,” she said.

For victim-survivors deciding whether or not to disclose their experience to members of their workplace is a significant decision. Only 30 per cent of survey respondents told someone at work about their experience of DFV. This is particularly striking given that the majority of respondents reported that DFV impacted their work.  

“For those victim-survivors who did disclose their experiences of DFV at work, they were most likely to share with a close colleague as opposed to a manager or HR representative. This finding reinforces the need for comprehensive education and training on responding to DFV at all levels of the workplace,”  Dr Nicol said.

This study found that nearly 50% of survey respondents had experienced workplace interference strategies by their abusers. Interference strategies can include making it difficult for a victim-survivor to get to work, phoning them repeatedly at work, arriving at their workplace unexpectedly or harassing colleagues at their workplace. 

“Our study reveals that impeding access to employment is a key tactic utilised by perpetrators. Abusers not only make it difficult for victim-survivors to engage in paid employment, but also tactically impede victim-survivors’ abilities to perform, advance career goals and to thrive at work,” Professor Fitz-Gibbon said.

Alarmingly, the study also found that: 

  • 1 in 5 victim-survivors surveyed worked in the same workplace as their abuser, and

  • 3 in 5 of the victim-survivors who worked alongside their abuser reported that the abuser held a position of power above them in the workplace.

The study recommends that every Australian workplace prioritises the implementation of a DFV workplace policy and that Australian workplaces prioritise the cultivation of a compassionate workplace culture that is DFV informed. 

“It is essential that all Australian employees, regardless of their level and management responsibilities, are equipped to respond in a way that ensures the victim-survivor feels believed and validated, and also with an understanding of the support pathways specific to their workplace,”  Professor Fitz-Gibbon said.

Photo: Kulli Kittas/Unsplash

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