By OWEN SKAE
On a global scale, one-third of women experience gender-based violence (GBV) in their lifetime, the most prevalent being intimate partner violence (IPV). South Africa has one of the highest rates of IPV in the world, with a shocking 27% to 50% of girls and women aged 15 and older having encountered either physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner.
Despite its endemic nature, there is hardly any reference to IPV by business. This is surprising, as notwithstanding IPV being a social and moral outrage that needs to be addressed, the costs to business are enormous. When businesses are shown the adverse impact that IPV has on productivity, they are more inclined to listen and do something about it.
How does IPV impact productivity?
- Absenteeism: Both survivors and perpetrators miss days of work. Medical attention may be required due to physical injury, stress and anxiety. Other personal imperatives, such as seeking legal advice, resolving personal issues, addressing financial problems, and staying at home to protect children, all add up to days of not being at work. This can also extend outside of the immediate partner relationship as other family members and friends may also have to take time off work to support the survivor.
- Tardiness: Perpetrators can resort to vindictive, cruel and demeaning activities to inconvenience, disrupt or even sabotage the survivor’s daily routine, resulting in their being late for work, or having to make up time. Eventually, the survivor will have the added challenge of wasted productive time and facing disciplinary action by the company for being late.
- Presenteeism: This means being present at work for longer than required, usually because it is not safe to go home, or because there is greater privacy of communication away from home. This has implications for the employer whether it is the survivor or the perpetrator. Even though the survivor is at work, they are not in a physical or mental state to be fully productive. Often their thoughts are elsewhere. They may be in a cell phone or email conversation with trusted friends and family. Many survivors don’t feel safe even at work. The perpetrator could very well be planning or even carrying out IPV whilst their partner is at work, for example, making abusive phone calls, sending threatening emails or scanning social media posts by the partner to use against them.
What is the economic cost?
If the true economic cost is to be established, the total cost of IPV to the survivor, the perpetrator and all other affected parties must be added up. The list of possible cost items is long, but it needs to be measured if something meaningful is to be done about it.
Some studies have shown that survivors and perpetrators of IPV can miss 7 to 10 days of work per annum. While this is probably too low an estimate, what it does confirm is that this is in all likelihood the maximum time the company would allow for absenteeism. So, tardiness and presenteeism will be highly prevalent as both the survivor and perpetrator conceal the IPV impact whilst at work. For the survivor this concealment in itself raises the anxiety and stress to unbearable levels, with further negative impacts on productivity.
Survivors and perpetrators lose days and wages. In the case of the perpetrator some people might think (and justifiably so), “Good!”, but this sadly ignores the reality that less money is then available for the perpetrator to meet their family commitments, which in turn perpetuates the cycle of abuse.
Both survivors and perpetrators (as high as 20%) report having had an accident at work. Whether or not this is a cover-up for IPV or a real accident, is in many respects immaterial, since regardless of the circumstances, any injury or trauma will cause downtime and compromises the safety of other employees. Furthermore, the employer will be required to investigate the accident and file for workmen’s compensation.
Perpetrators and survivors may lose their job or resign, resulting in a new recruitment process to be undertaken and a loss of continuity until a new staff member is appointed, who may require onboarding and training, before they are ready to take over.
So, what is to be done about it?
Companies must acknowledge that IPV is real and that there are employees who are both survivors and perpetrators.
Policies and procedures must be put in place for a supportive environment to educate and prevent IPV. There is a growing body of evidence showing a positive impact within companies that commit to doing this. Survivors do confide in their co-employees. Often these co-employees do not know what to do about it, especially as the survivor fears the effect of other people outside of the trusted circle knowing about anything from loss of a job, to victimization, to further abuse from a partner. So, the company must educate and inform, and put reporting mechanisms in place, and appoint skilled people and counsellors who can be referred to. It is no longer a case of saying, “it is easier said than done”. Rather, “it can and must be done!”
Prevention can also be focused on. Given the amount of time we spend at work, perpetrators in our workplace are often known, but we choose to ignore what they do. This is complex, but a company can play its part in considering prevention strategies, particularly when there are confirmed repercussions on the perpetrator’s productivity.
Finally, companies must measure the prevalence of IPV. There are tried and tested instruments that can measure the impact. What gets measured gets done.
Business Schools are the custodians of management education. Hence, they have a critical responsibility to highlight the impact of IPV in the workplace, encourage companies to do what is right by putting in place the necessary policies and procedures as suggested above, and incorporate the topic of IPV into relevant subject disciplines, such as responsible leadership or people management.
The Spar Group Limited has a campaign against Gender Based Violence which is a start, and shows a company that is putting its money where its mouth is. However, there is so much more that needs to be done. Hopefully many more companies will follow Spar’s example.
(Associate Professor Owen Skae is the director of the Rhodes University Business School. This article was first published in the February 2023 edition of Isanqa Newsletter, published by the Eugenia Nothemba Gxowa Foundation).