Employee benefits come in many forms, with organisations putting ones in place to meet the needs of their workforce and often, to stand out as an employer of choice. And when done well, it not only helps to attract and retain talent, but sends a strong message to employees that their company understands their needs and genuinely cares for and supports them.
An example of one such benefit is Reward Gateway’s Domestic Violence Protection Programme that they recently implemented in their offices around the world. To learn more about it, I interviewed Catrin Lewis, Head of Global Engagement and Internal Communications, where she shared why it was put in place, and how it was designed.
Question: Why did you decide to put this new benefit programme in place?
Catrin: We have a range of benefits to support our employees throughout various stages of their life, from parental leave to family leave to annual holiday entitlement. With the number of domestic abuse cases gradually increasing over recent years, especially throughout the pandemic, and the limited funding and resources for those impacted to quickly get help, we felt it was important to add this programme now to support employees who may face this unfortunate situation during their life.
We recognised that unfortunately in some cases relationships can break down and this can lead to abuse and violence, not just physical, but emotional and/or psychological too. We believe that the safety and wellbeing of our people must come first, and this programme aims to support them through such challenges from speaking out to establishing a new normal outside of their abusive relationship.
Question: Can you explain how in a previous job you had direct dealings with domestic violence?
Catrin: I worked in a Police Control Room for two and a half years where every other call was related to domestic violence. During this time I spoke with individuals experiencing all sorts of abuse, where I learned that something is going on behind every door, often not what you’d expect. This has always stayed with me, and for this reason I was committed to doing something about it.
I’ve spoken first hand to victims and perpetrators from all walks of life. I believe that domestic violence has no boundaries, and that it can impact everyone.
Question: What is the domestic violence protection programme?
Catrin: The programme has three key areas that support an individual through a challenging time when they are faced with domestic violence. They include:
1. Support and advice from local and national agencies
The majority of domestic violence cases are not reported to police. There are a huge amount of blockers for a victim to be able to speak up. And since Reward Gateway works hard to empower their people to Speak Up, one of their company values, they wanted to establish ways to provide extra support to report.
This part of the programme shares support and advice from local and national agencies, as many don’t know where to go, and often going to the police is not the right and/or the only solution. The aim of this is to give employees access to advice on financial, health and housing advice as well as legal assistance specially focused for victims of domestic abuse, giving them what they need to understand and manage the situation.
Any company can do this at absolutely no cost - put it on your website, put it on posters, do whatever you can to signpost where employees can go for advice and support.
2. Ten days fully paid leave
The next part of the programme is the provision of ten additional days of fully paid leave to help employees get away from an abusive environment and seek refuge. Inspired by New Zealand, where legislation was put in place in April 2019 making it legal for all companies to provide this, this is considered special leave, and is outside of standard holiday and sick leave entitlements.
We felt it was important to separate this time off from annual leave, which I consider wellbeing leave, a time when you rest and enjoy life.
The New Zealand legislation was the result of seven years of work by Green MP Jan Logie, who worked in a women’s refuge before she became a politician. “Part of this initiative is getting a whole-of-society response. We don’t just leave it to police but realise we all have a role in helping victims. It is also about changing the cultural norms and saying ‘we all have a stake in this and it is not OK’,” said Logie.
3. Financial support for legal action
And finally, Reward Gateway provides financial support to any employee wanting to take legal action against any perpetrator of domestic violence.
This goes above and beyond to support employees, but in speaking with specialists in family law, we learned that although employees can get free legal aid, because of the small number of lawyers specialising in this area and the increased numbers requiring it they can wait up to three months. A lot can happen during this time and it can be a very dangerous period for the victim, so we wanted to provide the option for private legal support, removing the financial friction and challenges and increasing safety for the employee.
Employees can confidentially request financial support from the fund, with the monies being given as a gift, so no repayment is required.
There is complete confidentiality with this as well as with other parts of the programme as we want our employees to know that we have their safety, wellbeing and future as our highest priority and will handle any incident reported to us with the highest sensitivity and absolution confidentiality.
Question: What reaction have you had from your workforce about this benefit?
Catrin: The reaction from employees has been extremely positive, from saying how proud they are of a benefit that has such a big impact on people’s lives, to showing genuine commitment and support to them.
It shows our employees that our mission of ‘making the world a better place to work’ considers the wider wellbeing of our employees. Though the benefit may not see incredibly high engagement figures, and I’d not want it to, it could be the benefit that saves someone's life. With many of our employees now working from home, it’s our health and safety responsibility to ensure they are protected from fear and intimidation while working. No one is going to be able to enjoy their time at work if they spend the time in fear of going home, or wondering what’s going to happen to them at the end of the day. We can show them that they are not alone and we will support them every step of the way in making the hard decision to leave and change their life.
Question: And finally, you explained that a key reason for sharing this with me and others is as a way to influence other businesses, having a bigger reach on what is a national problem. What do you want to say to those reading this about what steps they can take?
Catrin: The smallest thing can make a huge impact. Don’t let the thought of no budget put you off. Simply signposting your employees to domestic abuse hotlines could be the act that saves someone. Explaining what coercive control might be the messaging someone needs to read to understand that their situation is not what a healthy, happy relationship looks like.
Domestic violence is incredibly isolating. It can be hard to know who to trust and who to turn to for help. Hold out your hand and let your employees know that you are there and that you recognise this is an issue that affects everyone.
Here are links to some websites providing access to free information and assistance: https://www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk/
Thank you so much to Catrin for sharing this with us, and I do hope that it inspires you to address this important issue at your organisation.