As the coronavirus pandemic wears on, remote work and learning is intended to keep us safe. For victims of domestic violence, however, it does anything but. Instead, working from home often keeps victims close to their abusers.
This dynamic makes employee assistance programs (EAP) more important than ever. But while EAPs offer referrals and counseling that can help staffers in abusive relationships get the support they need, the programs are typically underutilized. It’s time for all of us to help close the gap by spreading the word about EAP resources for victims of domestic violence.
A Pandemic Within a Pandemic
Reports of violence among intimate partners jumped during lockdown, with some cities seeing a dramatic rise in calls to helplines. Others reported a drop-off in calls, which led advocates to worry that regional quarantines had effectively trapped victims behind closed doors with abusers. Experts call the surge in abuse a pandemic within a pandemic. In the U.S., pre-pandemic reports estimate one in four women and one in 10 men experience intimate partner violence.
EAPs are an essential way for businesses to help. Offered by 97% of large companies and 75% of smaller businesses, the programs can make a difference in employees’ lives: The Journal of Health and Productivity found big gains in life satisfaction and work engagement among employees who had accessed their company’s EAP services.
Yet fewer than 10% of employees make use of them, and some research finds utilization dipping as low as 4%. Several factors contribute to the low rates. One is that employees may associate EAPs with mental health issues, which carry a stigma all their own. Another reason is fear of asking for help. Lack of awareness is also a factor: While 93% of HR professionals said their companies offer EAPs, nearly half of workers say their employer doesn’t offer one.
Looking Out for Each Other
Closing that awareness gap is especially vital for helping co-workers who may be in crisis. The topic of domestic violence can make us uncomfortable, but the pandemic has opened the door to conversations about everything from anxiety to vulnerability that, until now, have been taboo in the workplace.
Let’s start to address domestic violence more openly by raising awareness and spreading the word about how EAP programs can help co-workers at risk:
- Know the hand signal for domestic violence. As remote work and videoconferencing continues, advocacy organizations have developed a single-hand gesture to alert co-workers, family and friends that an individual is at risk. Learn to recognize the #SignalForHelp.
- Remember that EAP programs and services are confidential. EAPs are subject to the same federal privacy laws as every healthcare provider. Employees don’t need to notify anyone or request permission in order to access EAP services, and employers don’t know who uses them.
- Promote open conversations to encourage utilization of EAP services. Encourage leaders who have used services to share their experiences. Invite a therapist who is part of the EAP network to explain how EAP counseling works. Open workplace discussions can be a catalyst for encouraging employees to seek help.
- Accept that domestic violence is a workplace issue. Any issue that impacts one in four women affects the work environment. The Department of Labor reports that victims of domestic violence lose eight million days of paid work per year in the U.S. Yet the toll on people is far greater. By promoting awareness of domestic violence and the EAP services available to victims, employers can make it safe to talk about. For example, we hosted a virtual webinar for North American associates that educated attendees on the signs of partner violence and how EAP can help.
Let’s look out for one another, be kind and help colleagues obtain the support they need, when they need it.
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