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Handling Abuse in the Furniture Workplace

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By Esther Francis Joseph

As a furniture retailer, you probably spend more time with coworkers than with family and friends. Because of that, you may be more likely to notice when things are not quite right with a colleague.  Abuse is more common than you might think. It happens to men, women and children, in every country, race, social-economic level, and age. In fact, the Bureau of Justice estimates that 4 to 6 million Americans experience some form of physical violence in their intimate relationship every year. While women by far make up the majority of abuse victims, men are abused as well. Data on male domestic violence is scant and unreliable since most men choose to suffer in silence rather than face the shame of reporting abuse by their female partners. Recent statistics say 85% of partner violence victims are female, and 25% to 29% victims are male. According to a women’s health survey, 25% of all women have experienced domestic abuse at some point in their lives. With these numbers you could be working with someone who is being abused.

It is entirely possible that an associate would suspect a coworker is being abused before that person’s family or friends would. Knowing how to handle that situation is critically important.

Educate Yourself

Before doing anything, make sure that you are well-educated on the subject, especially on types of abuse. If you know what constitutes verbal, emotional, spousal and physical abuse, you will be better equipped for your conversation, and can better handle your coworker’s response.

While the signs to look for can differ depending on the type of abuse the victim is suffering, it is important to know some of the possibilities. If a coworker displays any, and especially several, of the following signs, the chances are very high that he or she is a victim of abuse:

  • Bruises
  • A change in clothing style that allows marks or bruises to be easily hidden
  • Withdrawn attitude
  • Diminished self-esteem
  • Over-eagerness to please their partner
  • Fear of his or her partner
  • Talking about their partner’s temper or jealousy repeatedly
  • Checking-in with his or her partner, by phone or other ways, frequently
  • Agreeing with everything their partner says
  • Visible signs of fear
  • Accidents or incidents of “clumsiness” significantly more often than usual
  • More sick days than average
  • Never socializing without their partner
  • Limited access to money or vehicles
  • Personality changes
  • Signs of mental stress such as increased anxiety, depression and talk of suicide, even jokingly

You can help that person by providing them with solutions. Take the time to learn about the local programs that would be available to them. This might include counselors, support groups, shelters and health organizations. A simple online search can provide a wealth of information on local resources.

The Importance of Talking

If you suspect that your coworker is being abused, you need to talk to him or her about the situation. He or she might not even consciously realize that they are being abused, or may not know where to turn for help. While approaching a coworker and bringing up the topic of suspected abuse is a very difficult conversation to have, your actions just may save their life.

Prepare yourself for the encounter. The other person may respond with embarrassment, denial or anger. However, they may show signs of relief and gratitude. Since you don’t know how the conversation will go, steel yourself to the possibility that your discussion may be viewed as interference and met with anger or hostility.

What to Say

Choose a private place to talk when you have little chance of being interrupted. Start by reassuring your coworker that you are keeping the discussion confidential, unless you suspect that he or she is in true physical danger. Explain why you feel that they are being abused, giving specific examples such as:

  • “You used to enjoy meeting up with us after work, and now you seem afraid to.”
  • Every time a colleague approaches you, you flinch.”
  • "I’ve noticed that you seem to get an awful lot of bruises.”
  • “You’ve mentioned your partner’s temper on several occasions.”

Then, offer information you have gathered about resources that might be useful. Give them the opportunity to talk about the situation. Despite your feelings, reserve all judgment and comments. Telling them that their husband/wife is a tyrannical beast will not help the situation. In fact, it is likely to have the opposite effect and make the coworker defensive, therefore shutting down any change of them opening up to you. Reassure your colleague that you are available to talk when they need to, and that you would be willing to accompany them to talk to a professional if and when they choose.

While it is important to be open and willing to talk to about the situation, it is also important to know when to step back. If the person vehemently denies the allegation, you may want to just express concern and your willingness to support them. Be supportive of the other person’s decision, regardless of whether you agree or not. Take heart in the fact that you have done the right thing and brought the situation to their attention; it is now up to them how they decide to move forward. Monitor the situation, and if you see continued signs of abuse, notify your human resources department.

Be respectful of the other person’s privacy, but be deliberate in your attempts to help. Saving a life is worth it.

About the Author: Esther Francis Joseph is a personal and family coach and author of, “Memories of Hell, Visions of Heaven: A Story of Survival, Transformation, and Hope,” her personal story of survival and perseverance, despite a violent childhood. Growing up on the picturesque island of St. Lucia, Esther molded her literary talents with her childhood experiences as she continues down her path to leading a joyous and fulfilled adult life.  To learn more or contact Esther, please visit www.unityinherited.com


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