Ekta Viiveck Verma explains how domestic abuse percolates to the corporate corridors. Ekta is a Social Entrepreneur and Enabler, SAMVAD Advocacy, Founder – Invisible Scars and Poorn Viraam.
According to NCRB data, one out of every three womxn in India, face physical or sexual domestic violence. This data is incomplete because it factors in only reported cases of domestic abuse. A whopping 86% womxn who have experienced domestic violence have never sought help or reported it. There are no credible sources of data or statistics for emotional and psychological abuse or abuse against men and transgender people. Due to lack of awareness and no physical injury cases of emotional abuse are not even recognized, let alone reported. You must be wondering why an article meant for the workplace has all this data? The answer is – if you pay close attention to the statistics mentioned above, you will realize that you are likely to have both abusers and abuse survivors working in your organization. It a known fact that domestic abuse walks through the corridors of the workplaces every single day, both in the form of domestic abuse survivors and abusers.
Tara* (name changed to protect identity), was in an abusive marriage from the very beginning. She faced physical and emotional violence at the hands of her spouse and in-laws. Tara was an outstanding employee before she got married but slowly her performance at work started deteriorating. She would come late to work, she would be unable to meet her deadlines, she became sad and anxious and she would always want to take days off. Tara soon started dressing up shabbily, looking unkempt and was often distracted. Over a period of time, the company let go of Tara for her poor performance. What stumped her unit HR head was the fact that her performance had declined very rapidly. From being a top achiever in the team to being terminated, it all happened very fast. While Tara got into more trouble with her abusers for losing her job, the company had to bear the cost of it. They had to give her 3 months of severance pay, and they had to recruit and retrain another person to replace Tara. The economic burden of domestic abuse on workplaces is usually not understood well because it is not direct. If the organization had a formal domestic abuse prevention policy in place, they might have been able to help Tara. They could have supported Tara through the ordeal, allowing her to take time off, seek counselling, or get medical or legal help. It is possible that Tara could have gained her lost confidence and dealt with her situation in a better way. This would have meant that with a little help, Tara could have once again become the outstanding employee that she used to be, eliminating the need to recruit and train a new resource. Another aspect of having a domestic abuse survivor at a workplace is that their presence may impact other team members negatively. Take the case of Deepak. Due to the abusive situation at his home front, Deepak who was a good and reliable employee, started spending extra hours at office to avoid having to go home. The result was that his boss perceived him as a very dedicated employee. His team members were also expected to stay back late at work, as the team leader would cite Deepak’s example to motivate them. Soon Deepak’s colleagues started to resent him, as they could not do the same. Eventually the team ganged up on Deepak and started to trouble him. Tired of the situation on the home front and facing severe push back and animosity from his colleagues, Deepak committed suicide. Had the culture at Deepak’s company been more empathetic and sensitized, this situation could have been avoided. Deepak’s death, for his other team members was quite traumatic as they lived with the guilt of having treated him badly. The abuse Deepak faced at home had a ripple effect at his workplace, with the ripples impacting every member of his team.
Abuse survivors can suffer from low self-esteem, anxiety, or depression which directly impacts their work at office. However, by seeking help from the law, counselling and therapy, they can work to improve their situation, change themselves and move away from their abuser. Therefore, it becomes imperative to understand that it is much more worrying to have an abuser at the workplace, as abuser behaviour is much more complicated and hardwired. While majority of abusers seem to be nice at the workplace but evil in their homes, this is just a perception issue. The abuser is the same with their abusive traits being hardwired into their brain. The toxic boss, the obnoxious and disrespectful colleague, the sexual harasser could all be examples of an abuser who bring their abusive traits to work. They are the same person with the same traits – the only difference being that in one place i.e the workplace, there is a possibility of facing immediate consequences or there may be a power dynamic not in their favor, while on the home front they are the ones controlling all the outcomes with the power dynamics tilting in their favor. Abusers maybe smart enough to assess the situation and hide their abusive traits temporarily, at the workplace, while in some cases no effort is made to hide their abusive side because they are senior and influential within their organizations. Take the case of Tarun (name changed) who is a C-level executive. A seemingly wonderful man outside his home but an evil and violent husband inside it. He is the father of two children in their teens. They live in a posh community. He has been physically battering his wife for several years and often his wife has been seen physically hurt and in severe distress. His reign of terror is so intense that his wife does not even talk or interact with his neighbors. She shivers at the thought of reporting him or speaking to someone else about the abuse. It came to be known through the office grapevine that whenever there was a violent episode at home, Tarun would call his office peon to his home to clean up the mess, so that no one in his gated community would find out. Besides committing a crime, Tarun dragged another employee into his mess. Several femxle employees as well who directly report to him. Every single one of them is in danger because Tarun is a violent man, who hides his true personality. Problems may actually arise if someone provokes him or stands up to him at the workplace.
In order to understand domestic abuse better, we must learn about how to identify the signs of an abuse survivor as well as an abuser. Let’s start with an abuse survivor first. Some signs are obvious and easy to pinpoint – bruises, blue or purple marks, and a black eye. However, all signs are not this obvious. You should look out for that someone wearing long sleeves or scarves all the time and especially during hot summer, are they in state of anxiety and restlessness quite often? Have they become forgetful and withdrawn? Do they often back out of office events or activities on some excuse or the other? Have they started talking about how useless life is or mention suicide in conversations?
Identifying an abuser can be a more difficult task though, but the signs to watch out for are that they are arrogant and self-absorbed, always expecting praise and admiration and reacting negatively if that does not happen, being derogatory about colleagues or seniors, showing favor to people from the same caste or region as them, gossiping about people, gaslighting colleagues or juniors and then denying it and creating a toxic environment at the workplace, among many others. The result of working with people who demonstrate such behaviors can be enormously detrimental, taxing, isolating and perplexing. It can build bitterness, cause disagreements with high levels of frustration and unhappiness in a workplace.
Another overlooked and less discussed aspect of domestic abuse is what happens in the event that an abuser commits a heinous crime like murder. It is a possibility which cannot be ruled out in homes where physical violence is extreme. The organization where this person works for will suddenly become newspaper headlines for all the wrong reasons. There will be investigations into the crime and there will be immense damage to the image of this company. The penalty they may have to pay could possibly ruin their entire reputation. One case alone is enough do that, if accountability is not brought in through a robust and mandatory domestic abuse prevention policy, that cater to both survivors and abusers.
Imagine that you spend resources hiring and training a brilliant employee, who faces domestic abuse at home. How as an organization can you help such a person? It will cost you less to support a survivor than to allow them to resign or terminate them and to rehire and retrain someone. The survivor will always be thankful to the organization for helping/supporting them at a bad time and they are more likely to put in their best for this organization. This employee, once they tide over their bad time will more likely prove an asset in the long run. On the other hand, if the organization creates an open-door policy for the abuser’s families to report the abuse they face, they can pre-empt a crime in advance, anticipate a toxic work culture and put in rehabilitatory measures for this abusive employee. This will help in creating a safer work environment with a high trust and empathy quotient within the company. Most organizations have to focus on their workplace culture to make it more enabling and empowering. According to a well-known study done by Lady Geek, organizations with a better empathy index, actually have better profits. It is that time of the decade where you decide what kind of an organization culture you want to create and be part of. Will you be a pioneer in implementing a robust domestic abuse prevention policy or will you continue to be an unempathetic organization that turns a blind eye to this human rights violation? WHAT WILL YOU CHOOSE?
Photo courtesy- Engin Akyurt,pexels.com