Supporting your employees wellbeing improves retention, productivity and work culture.
Family violence, including economic harm, has a significant impact on employee wellbeing and costs New Zealand employers over $350 million dollars annually.
Trends overseas suggest economic harm is experienced in as many as 94% of family violence cases.
In New Zealand one in two women and one in ten men experience some form of family violence in their lifetime.
Chances are someone in your team is affected.
Economic harm is a form of family violence that controls, restricts or removes access to money and economic resources or participation in financial decisions.
These resources are designed to improve understanding of economic harm and provide employers with practical ways to help staff who may be affected.
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Potential red flags
Identifying economic harm isn’t so easy, or even possible in some cases, due to its lack of visibility.
Below are potential red flags that have been identified by people with their own experience of economic harm.
Individually these indicators may mean very little, however several together can show a pattern. This does not necessarily mean economic harm is being experienced.
These red flags are a starting point to let you know some difficulty could be occurring, and a conversation with the employee could be useful.
- Anxiety about getting paid on time, or needing pay in advance
- Asking for annual leave to be paid out without explanation
- Asking work to pay bills or redirect money to a different account
- Not having access to their own/joint bank account
- Having no money for necessities, yet having an income that should cover it
- Seeming guilty and defensive when talking about spending money on everyday items
- Using a shared email account
- The employer being contacted by government departments regarding redirection, fines or other debts not being paid
- Ongoing transport issues getting to work – or being picked up and dropped off
- Partner ringing a lot, texting or showing up – checking up or asking about pay details
- Withdrawing from social interaction. This could include situations in which they’re unable to participate in social or work activities that cost money. Then acting acting awkwardly or not wanting to talk about why
- Appearing uncomfortable or fearful when talking about their partner
- Presentism – regularly working late, not wanting to go home, or asking for extra shifts
- Absenteeism – regularly late to work or not coming at all (sick)– can’t afford to, or other things happening at home
- Seeming emotional or irrational – all over the place with their thinking or behaviour
- A change in appearance, or behaviour, or drop in work performance – usually competent, professional, and proficient – now a lack of concentration or preoccupied
- Hearing concerns from other colleagues that things aren’t good at home
- Change in employment status within the family such as job loss or reduced hours leading to comments about extreme financial strain
- Forced to sign immigration papers or other documentation
How to respond
Whatever difficult life experience a person is going through, a supportive conversation is a good starting place. This is also true for economic harm.
The best person to have a supportive conversation with is someone the staff member trusts and feels safe with. The wrong person could make matters worse or leave the staff member feeling vulnerable.
For a variety of reasons, staff members don’t always feel comfortable opening up to their line manager. You may want to encourage staff to speak to anyone in your management or people and culture teams with whom they feel comfortable.
These are things to consider if a staff member wants to discuss family violence or economic harm:
- Provide a safe and private space to talk
- There may be more occurring in the background than you are aware. Just like in a medical situation, it’s important to determine if an urgent response is required. It is not your job to work this out alone. However simply asking if the person feels an immediate response is needed will be enough to open up the conversation.
- Discuss workplace entitlements and any safety measures that can be implemented – such as screening calls, blocking emails, changing work hours or location, making time to get banking sorted or walking them to their car
- Offer any additional workplace support that can be made available – such as counselling or loan services
- Discuss who else on staff would need to know the situation to implement these entitlements – such as payroll, HR or senior management
- Take steps to make sure all disclosures and activities are kept confidential to the rest of the team by limiting access to staff files
- Provide information on external support – such as specialist services
- Make a plan together including regular catchups during the next few days, weeks or months
Tips for having a conversation
Having delicate and emotional conversations with employees requires a careful and considered approach.
You need to listen and speak in a way that is clear, respectful, empathetic and non-judgemental.
It is important to explain confidentiality about expectations and limits, whilst acknowledging what is happening is not their fault, that they are not alone and there are ways to get through.
People experiencing abuse are not always ready to seek support and may only be ready to disclose part of their situation.
Once they are aware help is available, they may choose to approach you at some other time or seek support when they are ready.
It is important to let them know this is okay.
In some cases, the staff member may already have a significant support person in their life that they can talk to.
Or they could be already working with a service or already have a plan in place.
Wherever the conversation leads, be careful to listen openly and not to force your own agenda due to fear or uncertainty.
It’s not always possible to gather all the information or solve someone else’s problems. Remember we are all experts in our own lives and it’s important to trust that the person knows their situation best.
Working with different cultures
There are many aspects of culture that are important to think about when responding to economic harm.
All of the below points are important to consider when developing organisational policies and procedures, and the provision of staff support and information.
The impact on other staff
When an employee is experiencing economic harm, there is likely to be a flow-on effect that could impact other staff members or teams. If productivity is affected, colleagues can be left feeling frustrated, concerned, or may even display strong emotional responses.
Depending on how these experiences are expressed, workplace relationships and culture can also be impacted – for better or worse.
The social element of work relationships can also lead to a level of personal distress for some people. There may be a feeling of responsibility to step in, support their colleague or fix their problem. For others, it could trigger old or current feelings relating to their own experience of violence or trauma.
By providing information to all staff about family violence, employee rights, and internal or externals pathways for support – some of these points can be addressed.
How to provide support
Whatever support is offered, whether that’s internally or externally, it is unlikely everything will be sorted after just one conversation.
Dealing with these situations can be ongoing for some time, as is the nature of family violence and economic harm.
Once things are put in motion there needs to be a commitment to ongoing support.
Even when external support is accessed, it may take time for the employee to work through their experience and things to be managed.
Your employee may need regular check-ins and discussions over days, weeks or even months.
It is also possible things could get worse before they improve, as pressure from the person using violence may increase.
Your employee’s, your own and your team’s safety must be kept in mind at all times.
Remember that you’re probably not a trained social worker – so avoid overstepping. Intervening in what might seem the most helpful way can cause people to shut down, withdraw, or escalate very quickly.
It is important to know whether the relationship is breaking up – leaving a relationship is considered to be the most dangerous time where physical harm is a real possibility, even if it has not occurred previously in the relationship.
Seeking external support
External support comes in many forms depending on the extent of the problem, type of help wanted and cultural considerations.
It’s important that the person experiencing the harm has choices and is supported to make the decisions that work best for them.
It’s easy to assume what the most appropriate support might be, however, it’s important that this is done together with the employee.
Important questions to ask your employee when seeking support:
- Are there family members, partners, ex-partners, friends, or acquaintances who work in the service you are considering accessing?
- If so, are they supportive, would they have access to your information?
- Do you want them to know or be involved?
A checklist for finances
Whatever steps are taken, access to money needs to be considered.
Use the checklist below:
Strategies in the workplace
Below are a few strategies you can use as an employer to prevent economic harm.
Confirm pay details when staff are signing a new contract or a new person is employed. You could create a tick box on the employment form.
Some examples are:
- Is this your bank account?
- Do you have access to the money in this account?
- Do you need another option? E.g. wages split, a portion paid into another account or paid in cash?
Confirm email address is correct.
Ask if they want to create a different one to use for payslips or other confidential information.
Economic harm information provided during interview or as part of role induction.
For example: “As an organisation, we have a family violence and economic harm policy. We have strategies in place to support anyone experiencing it.”
Create an open workplace culture that encourages communication and support to make it easier for employees to raise concerns.
Implement a workplace wellbeing programme where workplace support is offered to address financial harm.
- Increasing awareness about available wellbeing options – including domestic violence leave, or cashing-up a week’s annual leave
- Contact us about providing a workplace financial wellbeing programme
Put family violence and economic harm information on the staff intranet.
You could include:
- What economic harm is
- Safety plans whilst at work
- Services that are available to assist
- Banking information
- Availability of financial support options such as Good Loans
Put notices, posters and pamphlets around the office to make economic harm more visible, raise awareness and provide support.
When hanging notices up, it’s worth noting economic harm isn’t always associated with family violence – it’s often thought to be elder abuse.
It’s also worth noting that the words abuse or violence can sometimes be a barrier; they are commonly associated with extreme physical violence – think about using the word harm instead.
Host a staff training that provides staff with basic knowledge around economic harm.
Develop a workplace policy or regularly review your workplace policies, safety plans and procedures.
Shine offers a DVFree accreditation programme that provides workplace policies, guidelines and a best practice response to family violence.
Surviving Economic Abuse (2021), United Kingdom, retrieved from https://survivingeconomicabuse.org/
Shine (2020), DVFREE Making the workplace domestic violence free: First Responder Workbook. https://www.dvfree.org.nz/
Our Watch Limited (2021), Workplace Equality and Respect. Our Watch. https://workplace.ourwatch.org.au/
NCADV. (2015). Facts about domestic violence and economic abuse. Retrieved from www.ncadv.org