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Signs that an employee may be struggling with domestic violence and how to help

By Jack Campbell | |6 minute read

Promoting transparency and encouraging openness in the workplace can help your employees feel heard and create a safe space for them to open up.

This is especially important when discussing domestic and family violence, as employees may be scared to come forward without the right systems put in place for them.

Mental health advocate and keynote speaker Tammy Hewitt joined The HR Leader to discuss the tell-tale signs of domestic and family violence and how employers can accommodate those affected.


“Some of the tell-tales could be a change in mood from the employee, a change in behaviour. Potentially they could have been a little bit more of a bubbly person or a little bit more extroverted, and then you notice a difference in their behaviour where they just seem to be a little bit more introverted and is almost potentially shying away from group settings, really trying to isolate themselves,” Ms Hewitt explained.

“They could be having a lot more sick days. It’s this whole emotional intelligence part where we are around these people all the time, and I think we need to trust our gut as well. If we are observing behaviour like this and they’re potentially a little bit frantic, their phone rings and messages and you just feel, like you can sense when somebody is on edge.”

While it is important to be alert to the signs, Ms Hewitt said that being quick to jump to conclusions is not the best approach.

“I think it’s really important as a leader that we don’t jump the gun there either because there could be something obviously underlying this,” she said.

Employers should still be aware of the potential that issues of domestic and family violence can occur among their staff.

With one in six women having experienced violence from a partner, this discussion is extremely important.

Ms Hewitt continued: “Instead of being like, ‘I don’t want to know about this’, or ‘it’s too much’, I think it’s important as an employer to make sure that you do pay attention to some of those subtle signs. Because whether you like it or not, it could impact your workplace because it can obviously affect the dynamics within a team.”

Creating a safe space for employees to express concerns is paramount to overcoming challenges, Ms Hewitt said.

“Ultimately, that person just wants to know that they’re safe and that they’re seen and heard and that they will be supported no matter what they share. That’s really important. It doesn’t have to be doom and gloom.”

“It’s the same as mental health. That’s typically previously been very much a taboo topic. I think we can’t discount that so many people are facing mental health challenges, unfortunately, also going through family and domestic violence. We have to stop sweeping it under the carpet and actually respond to these subtle signs. Like you said, it’s about the awareness within the workplace. Making sure that, one, employees know that it is safe to speak about it,” Ms Hewitt said.

This can be achieved through awareness and training. Education is what will help people to understand these issues and, ultimately, help deal with them better.

Ms Hewitt commented: “[It’s] really important all employees undergo awareness training around different topics like domestic family violence [and] mental health because we know that they can actually be quite interlinked.”

“But we need that training where we have the open forum and employers can actually see and feel; that’s a really important thing.”

“Actions speak louder than words … If people come forward and share some of what they’re going through, some of their disruptions and the business doesn’t support it, that behaviour is going to spread like wildfire, and then people won’t feel comfortable speaking up. Ultimately, it will affect the workplace culture as well and the trust from staff.”

Vulnerability in leadership can help employees to know they’re in a safe space.

“Leaders need to show a level of vulnerability as well. It doesn’t mean that we have to air our dirty laundry, but we need to humanise what so many of us go through. I think it’s just trying to get that balance, but we need to show people and have them feel that it’s a safe workplace,” Ms Hewitt said.

The transcript of this podcast episode, when quoted above, was slightly edited for publishing purposes. The full audio conversation with Tammy Hewitt on 27 February 2023 is below, and the original podcast article can be found here.


Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack is the editor at HR Leader.