Survey eyes costs of partner violence in workplace

Western researchers looking into the effects of intimate-partner violence on employers are turning to the university community for help.

Faculty, staff, post-doctoral scholars and graduate teaching assistants are able to participate in a Western-led academic survey, Intimate partner violence and its financial costs, that hopes to determine the extent to which intimate-partner violence impacts survivors, perpetrators and witnesses at the university workplace.

“We will translate those effects into a total cost measure and ultimately a measure of the impact of intimate-partner violence on the total productivity of workers at Western,” explained Economics professor Audra Bowlus, who leads the survey with Education professor Barb MacQuarrie.

“The results will help Western recognize that these impacts and costs exist. By providing support, training and services, Western can mitigate the costs by helping its employees and by creating a better workplace for all. In addition, the findings will help Western to know better where to direct resources and how best to help their employees.”

Western is the first institutional survey in North America to participate.

Western community members may access the survey via links sent to Western email accounts on Monday, Nov. 25, or by a direct link to the survey site. A private space/computer is also available in Room M16 located on the mezzanine in The D.B. Weldon Library.

The anonymous survey responses will be kept confidential. While respondents are asked to indicate their faculty or unit, the results will not be attributed to individuals.

Approved through Western’s Ethics Committee, the survey runs through Dec. 13 and coincides with an international campaign of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence.

“It is important all employees at Western take the survey, whether they have been directly affected by intimate-partner violence or not,” said MacQuarrie, Director of Western’s Centre for Research & Education on Violence against Women & Children. “The only way we will be able to isolate the patterns related to intimate-partner violence is for both those affected by it in some way and those who have not been affected to take the survey.”

When it comes to intimate-partner violence, more than 1-in-3 women, and just under 1-in-6 men, have experienced it during their lifetime. Not confined to the home, many have reported its effect on their ability to get to and perform well at work.

Presently, limited data exists into its financial costs to employers in Canada – making it difficult for employers to relate to the problem or even see it as a problem that directly impacts them.

MacQuarrie and others have shown how workplaces can be affected by intimate-partner violence, including the victims, perpetrators and even co-workers. There have been some high-profile cases, including Chatham resident Theresa Vince, killed in 1996 by her boss after years of relentless sexual harassment, and Lori Dupont, a nurse who was stabbed to death in 2005 by her boyfriend who worked at the same Windsor hospital.

Such outcomes are likely what people associate most when asked about how intimate-partner violence affects the workplace, Bowlus said. However, there are many other ways that intimate-partner violence can affect people at work.

“This may come in the form of being stressed about their home situation, being injured and unable to perform their job well, being distracted by incoming messages, texts and phone calls from their (ex)-partner or worried about their (ex)-partner showing up at work or contacting a co-worker,” Bowlus said.

“There is also evidence that intimate-partner violence affects the work ability of perpetrators as they deal with what has happened at home. Perpetrators are most likely to cause or almost cause accidents in their workplaces.”

Co-workers may also be affected by being stressed about what is happening to their friend/co-worker or taking on extra work if their co-worker is absent.

“Our limited experience has demonstrated when employers take an interest in this issue and begin to provide support, it increases employee engagement,” Bowlus said.

Following the Western-focused survey, researchers plan to extend the work across Canada and internationally.