Practice Profile

Domestic violence isn't just a personal issue, says psychologist David Hayes, PhD. It's a business issue.

"Estimates vary, but one common figure is that domestic violence in the United States costs $6 billion a year through employee turnover, health-care costs and decreased productivity," says Hayes, a consultant in the employee assistance program at Bank One and then—following a merger—JPMorgan Chase.

That's why Bank One jumped at the opportunity when the Columbus Coalition Against Family Violence asked it to help fight domestic violence in central Ohio. The result was the Recognize and Refer program, which trains supervisors to spot signs of possible domestic violence and get employees the help they need. The program earned Bank One a Best Practices Honor from APA's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award initiative in 2004. Now it is poised to reach a wider audience.

A new online version will make the training available to JPMorgan Chase employees nationwide. The company will soon be sharing the program with other organizations, says Hayes, who leads the company's local effort. And a national conference will help get the message out that everyone needs to help stop domestic violence.

A business/community partnership

The program is especially timely now, says Hayes. "It's well-known that there's a rise in domestic violence when the economy gets bad," he says. "At the same time, funding for support services in the community can also face trouble in bad economic times."

But victims of domestic abuse often keep quiet about it at work.

"Many employees don't think their managers would have any interest in trying to help them," Hayes explains. "And plenty of people think, 'If I come forward and talk about this, I'm going to lose my job. I'm going to be seen as more trouble than I'm worth.'"

Managers and supervisors may also be reluctant to get involved or uncomfortable approaching the issue.

"There may be old-school folks who still don't think it's anybody's business," says Hayes. "We emphatically reject that perspective."

The Recognize and Refer program aims to change those kinds of attitudes and persuade employees that coming forward is the best thing to do—for themselves and the business. The goals are twofold: to teach managers and supervisors to recognize signs of family violence and refer possible victims to appropriate resources and to teach employees that they don't have to choose between being safe and keeping their jobs.

The effort is a collaboration between the company and the Columbus Coalition Against Family Violence. The coalition provides businesses with free resources and training to help managers, human resources departments and security staff recognize signs of violence and do something about it. As the coalition's business task force puts it, "Family violence doesn't stay home when its victims come to work."

Greater outreach

When the Recognize and Refer program was first rolled out in 2002, it focused on a group of 1,600 employees in the Columbus site's card services department.

But that approach wasn't enough, says Hayes, pointing out that JP Morgan Chase has 15,000 employees in central Ohio alone. In addition, he says, asking managers to take time out for three 90-minute training sessions is "a pretty difficult sell." As a result, the company recently created a Web-based version of the training called "What Every Manager Needs to Know About Domestic Violence." The 30-minute module explains why domestic violence is a business issue, how to recognize signs of violence and how to discuss the issue with employees. A companion module targets employees.

The company has pilot-tested the Web-based training at another central Ohio site, but designed the program so it can be used in JPMorgan Chase sites nationwide and even by other organizations. "We have looked carefully at the idea of giving this program away and have decided to do so beginning at the national conference," says Hayes. "We want to seize the opportunity for the firm to contribute to important social change."

Managers are thankful for the help.

Having a discussion about something as personal as family violence can be "a pretty daunting task," Hayes says. The module offers a script, with do's and don'ts about what to say.

More than 90 percent of participants say the program taught them something new and convinced them the corporation cares about the issue of family violence. Even more important, says Hayes, the program has resulted in more people coming forward and asking for help. In fact, the first pilot program resulted in a 350 percent increase.

Hayes and the Columbus coalition are already preparing to share their success with a broader audience. The coalition will sponsor a national conference called "Innovation Through Collaboration: Building a Community Response to Family Violence" in Columbus on April 29–May 1. The conference will feature programming on five "touchpoint" areas—victim services, law enforcement and the legal system, health care, the faith community and the workplace. Hayes chairs the conference planning committee.

For more information, visit the coalition's Web site at www.ccafv.org.


Rebecca A. Clay is a writer in Washington, D.C.