During the week commencing 30 March, calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline increased by an average of 25%, while hits to the national domestic abuse website increased by 150% during the initial stages of Covid-19 lockdown.”  

bullying at work

Domestic matters might not seem like a priority for businesses but employers have a duty of care for their employees and colleagues can be a useful point of contact for victims wishing to reach out for support. Video calls and conferences have become part of many people’s work norm under COVID-19 restrictions.  

These calls provide (in COVID-19 lockdown conditions) a rare opportunity to talk to someone other than those in our homes and give us a peak into the homes of our colleagues. Mostly this means we learn new information about our colleagues. Perhaps we notice they have lots of ornaments from travelling, or a strategically placed guitar might suggest they had hopes of being a musician not a finance manager. For someone who has an abusive partner who is isolating them from family and friends, this might be the only contact they have with someone outside of their home.  

It is important that we are observant on these calls and consider following up privately if someone on the call seems out of sorts or if something that doesn’t seem quite right. For example if their partner is always nearby when the calls are happening there is a possibility this could be them monitoring the call as a form of control. This is difficult to assess, as there could also be a reasonable explanation, such as there isn’t enough space at home to work privately or their partner is genuinely interested in the work. You don’t need to accuse anyone of anything but a private follow up call/message with your colleague might increase or decrease your level of concern.

This small act could make a huge difference to someone who is a victim of domestic abuse as it might become their sounding board and support network. It might be these interactions that gives them the push they need to seek specialist support 

Tips for checking in on a colleague 

If these calls happen in private, away from the perpetrator and the colleague asks the genuine question; “are you okay?” they might find themselves listening to the victims first attempt at reaching out for support.  This is a particularly important moment.  

Things to avoid: 

  • It is common for aperson receiving the disclosure to feel out of their depth and say something flippantly in an attempt to avoid this responsibility somehow. We often hear these people saying “just leave”.  
  • Another way someone may respond to a disclosure of domestic abuse is to put on a cape, adopting a rescuer role.  They might be tempted to take things into their own hands and intervene directly with the perpetrator which could escalate the abusefor the victim and their family or the perpetrator may redirect any violence at them which doesn’t help anyone.
  • Some people try to offer too much advice or support themselves. It is important to be realistic of what you can offer and when. Domestic abuse

So what should I do?

  • Ensure you have a protocol of having conversations that are not all about work, ideally on a platform where you can see each other.  Askopen, non-judgmental or leading questions, look out for non-verbal body language.   Give people an opportunity to share how they are feeling. 
  • Consider a buddying system, where you pair up people who ‘get on’ in the workplace, so that ‘personal’conversations are less awkward.   
  • Being a caring friendor colleague is your role. Specialised support services like Refuge are there to advise and support with next steps, how they can protect themselves at home, creating escape plans, Covid19 survivor tips
  • Friends and colleaguesof victims should listen, believe, reassure and then signpost them to these services for professional and practical advice that can help to keep them safe.  
  • Check in with them regularly and make sure they are okay.  Don’t take it personally if they don’t take up the offer or don’t contact a specialist service. It’s a big leapto ask for help and it might not be safe to do so. Lots of victims doubt themselves and have been made to feel they deserve the abuse they receive, these are just a few of the barriers that victims face when accessing support.   
  • If you are worried about someone you work with, a neighbour, a friend or family member you can contact Refuge and ask them for advice on how to help0808 2000 247. Or visit the national helpline.