Leadership and management

  • When someone is experiencing sexual, domestic and family it can affect their productivity, performance and wellbeing
  • Managers, co-workers and organisations as a whole should know how to respond appropriately and to refer to specialist support services
  • If you would like more information on supporting employees or colleagues experiencing sexual, domestic and family violence, you can contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or through online chat.

How sexual, domestic and family violence can affect employees

The strain of dealing with sexual assault and domestic and family violence can impact on a worker’s productivity, performance and wellbeing. They may be receiving threatening phone calls or emails and they may be more vulnerable. This can be the case even when they are no longer living with the perpetrator, as their work location and hours of work may be known to them. 

Managers and co-workers have a responsibility to know how to respond sensitively and to refer employees experiencing violence to specialist support.

Employees experiencing sexual assault or domestic and family violence may show signs of:

  • Distraction
  • Distress (for example, crying)
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Fear

They may be having trouble concentrating at work and managing deadlines and they may require time off work to obtain protection orders or to keep their children safe. They may also have doctors’ or counselling appointments for themselves and any children.

How managers can provide support

Managers can make a real difference to the wellbeing of employees experiencing violence by implementing strategies that support their retention at work and improve work productivity. These include for example:

  • The offer of training for all staff in their organisation, so that staff can respond appropriately to disclosure, recognise the signs of domestic and family violence, provide appropriate support and know how to refer to more specialist services
  • The availability of a contact person within the organisation, who can support the employee and refer them to relevant services
  • Clear procedures for co-workers to manage disclosures by employees impacted by violence,
  • Policies for supporting employees impacted by violence, including:
    • Domestic violence leave policy
    • Flexible working hours to manage appointments, responsibilities for children
    • Reduced workloads or change of tasks to accommodate employees’ needs during times of crisis

How organisations can provide support

Organisational strategies for dealing with sexual assault and domestic and family violence also need to be inclusive of all employees, including women, men, employees with disabilities, those who identify as LGBTI and employees from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

Organisations also have a responsibility to respond appropriately to their staff who may be perpetrators of violence. Perpetrators may use their work time and resources to conduct abusive acts. This can include:

  • Emailing, phoning or texting at work
  • Using work IT systems to access private information about someone
  • Acting abusively towards other staff or clients
  • Manipulating pay or roster systems to avoid child support or other obligations

Unacceptable behaviour by perpetrators should never be tolerated. Organisations need clearly articulated organisational policies for dealing with unacceptable behaviour in the workplace. These policies need to be compliant with legislation regulating work conditions and employee codes of conduct.

Supporting those responding to sexual, domestic and family violence

Working with people who have experienced sexual assault and domestic and family violence is complex work, requiring specialist skills. Listening to and working with the traumatic experiences of people impacted by violence can also be distressing and over time impact upon workers’ own wellbeing.

Managers of sexual assault and domestic and family violence services have a responsibility to ensure that staff are equipped with the appropriate knowledge and skills to support people affected by violence through the offer of ongoing training and professional development. Access to regular supervision is also important to enhance workers’ capability in working with people affected by violence.

Policies that focus on employee wellbeing are also important to address the risk of vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue and burnout. These, at a minimum include:

  • The development of employee wellbeing plans
  • Access to regular debriefing
  • Regular monitoring of employee wellbeing
  • Access to counselling and support

These policies should sit under an overarching staff support framework for employees working with those impacted by sexual assault and domestic and family violence.