Program targets domestic violence

Employee attitudes shift

An innovative workplace-based program targeting domestic violence has succeeded in engendering significant change in terms of employee awareness and attitudes, according to an evaluation report from the San Francisco-based Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF).

The fund was retained by Harman International Industries Inc., a manufacturer of high-end consumer stereo and audio equipment that employs about 3,500 employees across the United States "to provide expertise and knowledge and to design the program from the bottom up," says Beverly Younger Urban, PhD, LCSW, a professor at Governor State University in University Park, IL, and author of the evaluation report.

While FVPF had a pre-existing template for such a program, this project was customized to meet Harman’s needs. And, significantly, "We included an evaluation component" in the services provided to Harman, Younger Urban explains.

Here are some of the key findings in the evaluation report:

• After the domestic violence training, 91% of the employees said they were now more likely to know where to refer someone who is abused for help; 89% said they were now more likely to be supportive of a colleague who is abused; and 86% said they were now more aware of what to do if there is a threat of domestic violence at work.

• The training caused "a highly significant increase" in the number of employees who said they know the signs of abuse, they know where to refer a victim to get help, and they know who to contact if they know of an employee who might be attacked at work.

• Employees’ attitudes about domestic violence were more supportive of victims after the training than before it. In this statistically significant finding, about 20% more employees had highly supportive answers after the training.

• Responding to questions about the training, about three-quarters of Harman employees agreed that the training sessions increased their awareness and readiness to respond to domestic violence.

Death sparks initiative

Younger Urban, who was involved in the project from the beginning, looks at the success of the program from two different perspectives. "From the research perspective, statistically there was a change that was big enough to measure in what people know and understand about domestic violence," she notes. "When we teach them, they can respond in ways that are much more helpful to others."

She also had a very personal reaction to the experience. "Every inch of the way, from planning to training, to doing to evaluating, there has just been a groundswell of support from employees and management to really buy into this," she says.

The initiative at Harman arose following the death of an employee from domestic violence. Chairman Sidney Harman "took a deep interest, and tasked his daughter, Lynn Harman [an attorney with the firm], to seek out best practices in the prevention of domestic violence," Younger Urban explains.

The first step in the Harman/FVPF initiative was to set up regional teams that knew the individual facilities very well. "There were HR [human resource] representatives on each team, who knew the culture," says Younger Urban, noting that this was extremely important because each facility had its own distinct culture.

"We even formally assessed the cultures, the demographics, and the need for training," she continues. "There was a lot of upfront development," including handouts in numerous languages.

For each facility, a community domestic violence service provider was brought into the process. (Editor’s note: Community domestic violence providers are what used to be known as shelters.) "We identified the provider who was closest to the facility, then brought them in as a full partner in the training program," says Younger Urban.

This was followed by train-the-trainer and planning meetings. "Getting to know the people on the teams really helped and connected them to the hometown," Younger Urban notes. "It provided a long-term partnership between that immediate facility and community. In the future, if someone has a problem with their partner, they already know a person in the community and can call them."

This really has been a win-win situation, she continues. For the employer, these providers function as informal consultants. The benefit for the provider is financial. "They tend to have very little money," Younger Urban explains, "And we encouraged these Harman facilities to support them through employee drives that collect food and clothing. It’s an ongoing collaboration."

Policy is critical

Another critically important piece was a new company policy on domestic abuse, which was part of the employee training about domestic violence. "We included workplace violence risk, but we went beyond that to the needs of people being abused who come to work," Younger Urban observes. "They are much like people with life-threatening illnesses or disability; for some period of time, they are not able to function as fully as they’d like, and they need resources for help."

In light of this vision, the policy went beyond safety and security to how to reach out to help people, and how to address presenteeism. "This had to be our foundation," Younger Urban notes. "It sends a message of strong corporate support."

The program, she continues, was highly successful first and foremost because the company was so committed. "I’ve measured [employee] attitude change before [at other workplaces] and seen a slight shift, but in this one, it was statistically significant — from less positive to more positive attitudes," she says.

"We had employees who had lived through domestic violence and through this program became stronger," she reports. "They found a way out, and said they now wanted to help others. They became some very supportive partners in the training process."

The Harman experience can be duplicated by any company, Younger Urban asserts. "The fund has done a lot of work in this area; I helped them create training manuals that can be adapted to different workplaces." This includes a training manual on developing best practices, for which she served as lead author. The evaluation of the project is available at www.endabuse.org (click the workplace program button).

Need more information?

Beverly Younger Urban, PhD, LCSW, Governor State University, University Park, IL. Phone: (312) 771-4440. E-mail: b-urban@govst.edu.