MAKE A DIFFERENCE | workplace culture / mental health / wellbeing

Are Your Employees Suffering From Domestic Abuse? How to Spot the Signs and Help

On 14th January, The UK’s Business Minister Paul Scully wrote an open letter to employers on how they can support survivors of domestic abuse. The Government has said that employers “have a duty” to support employees who are victims of domestic abuse but not enough have adequate policies in place.

In this timely article, counsellor and narcisistic abuse recovery coach Emma Davey outlines how employers can spot the signs of domestic abuse – particularly when so many are working from home as a result of the pandemic – and what they can do to help.   She focuses on narcissistic abuse, which is one of the most common forms of domestic abuse and is perpetrated by someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (which cannot be cured).

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Working from home can have its perks for some, but for the victims of Narcissistic Abuse it means no escape from their abuser. They will be with them 24/7 and this will have a huge impact on their mental and physical health.

It also means that there is far less chance of someone outside the home – such as you their employer or their colleagues – seeing that there is a problem.

How can you spot the signs and what can you do to help?

What is Narcissistic Abuse?

Narcissistic Abuse is a form of emotional abuse by someone who suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. These individuals control, manipulate and gaslight their victims on a daily basis. Their victims can start showing signs of anxiety, depression and even Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Often the abuse is also physical, but you can’t rely on physical signs.

Signs that an employee is suffering from abuse

Identifying if someone is being abused, especially when only speaking to them via a computer or telephone, can be hard. Of course everyone is different, and some people are better at hiding it than others, but typically the employee will give you the following clues. They will: 

  • Behave differently. They may become more withdrawn or quieter on calls, look tired and demotivated.
  • Be reluctant to come on camera.
  • Overreact to feedback or situations, by either becoming over aggressive, too apologetic or upset, perhaps even crying – i.e., They don’t appear to have their usual control over their emotions.
  • Show signs that they’re anxious or distracted. Someone who is usually focused may make silly mistakes.
  • Show reluctance to tell you about their home life or partner.
  • Be late or even absent from team meetings / Zoom calls for work and be reluctant to take part in any social events online.
  • Look different. The most obvious sign is if they’re displaying injuries to the face, which they try to hide and struggle to explain.  They may also wear more make up than usual or different clothing to hide their injuries.

Of course, many of us are experiencing one or more of these symptoms due to the pandemic so you do need to speak to the employee.

How can the employer help?

If you suspect someone is suffering, however daunting it is, don’t be afraid to ask how they are on a private call, in a non-judgemental, empathetic manner.  Check that they’re able to speak to you freely, if not ask “yes and no” questions to find out if they need help.

If they can speak freely, give them time to be honest and open, ask open questions and allow long pauses, without interruption, as this will encourage them to speak.

Victims will often blame themselves, or make excuses for their partner, and may even aggressively defend them.  This is because of expert manipulation and gaslighting by the abuser.  Try not to respond to this.  If they do get defensive, shift your focus to the behaviour and how you can help them.

If you believe the victim is being physically harmed, or they or their children are in danger, you should inform the police.  In UK law domestic abuse is a criminal offence and they do not need the consent of the victim to prosecute.

Monitor the behaviour of the employee daily and keep checking in with them. If you notice changes start writing it down, however small you might think it is.  This will help you, the victim and the authorities understand what is happening.

Make sure the employee has the phone numbers of emergency help and support and, if the business can afford it, give them access to a specialist counsellor. There are also Facebook Groups online that help victims. I run one called Victims of Narcissistic Abuse Support Group.  As the information may be intercepted by the abuser it is worth sending a general e-mail to all staff on how you support abuse victims and include this information, you may also help others that you didn’t even suspect were struggling.

With the permission of the victim, let the victims’ colleagues know that the employee is not very well and to come to you if problems arise.  It is not fair to let people know the employee’s business, but you do want to do all you can to take the pressure off them.  Prioritise their safety over work efficiency.

The most important thing is to be there for them, whether or not they’re ready to take action.

Useful contacts

The following organisations offer specialised guidance, support and information for people who are experiencing domestic abuse, as well as those who want to help them:

  • For employers, take a look at Business in the Community (BITC) domestic abuse toolkit and this guide from the City Mental Health Alliance.
  • If you are experiencing emotional or physical abuse, or are concerned about someone who is, you can call the Refuge 24 hour National Domestic Abuse helpline on 0808 2000 247.
  • Alternatively, you can speak confidentially to someone at Women’s Aid and Mankind, or visit their websites for more guidance and advice.

Other useful numbers:

You might also be interested in this article:

Male Victims of Domestic Abuse: What Employers & Colleagues Can Do To Help

You can read the Business Minister’s open letter here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/domestic-abuse-open-letter-to-employers-on-how-to-help-workers-find-the-right-support

And the BBC’s report on the topic here:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-55644222

About the author

Emma Davey is a BACP counsellor and narcissistic abuse recovery coach. She is also founder of My Trauma Therapy and runs the Facebook Group “Victims of Narcissistic Abuse”.