Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Translating Practice Into Research

Wouldn’t you like to know if the programs and policies that employers are using to address domestic violence and its impact on the workplace really work? I know I would.

I recently had the opportunity to present “The State of the Art” regarding domestic violence as a workplace violence issue at the workplace violence prevention conference we co-sponsored with NIOSH (the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) in Baltimore in November. of 2004. Because of the prevalence and interest in domestic violence as a workplace issue, NIOSH has created a new category for “personal relationship” violence as a subset of workplace violence – it is known as “Type 4” workplace violence.

As I prepared for the presentation, I realized that the three other workplace violence typologies (criminal intent, customer/client, and worker to worker) have been identified and recognized for a much longer period of time than domestic violence has – and consequently there is more research regarding those types of workplace violence and how they may be prevented.

In fact, when I was sharing our “best practices” at the conference, I hesitated to call them “best practices” because while we think these things work best (and some former victims have told us they were helpful) we are not really sure they work – or that they are even the “best.”

I cannot tell you the number of times that I’m presenting to companies trying to engage them in pursuing a workplace domestic violence program when I am asked the question “Do you have outcome studies?” “How effective is this program?” “What are the cost savings?” “How can I know it is really worth it to do this?” I cannot give them answers to those questions beyond anecdotal experiences of our member companies – because we simply don’t have the information. Why is that?

It comes down to this – research. We need research in the field in a myriad of areas – for example, what exactly is the productivity cost per worker? Is there a way to best help victims of domestic violence through workplace interventions? And just because the victim is helped, is the workplace safer as a result? Is there a way to best reach batterers? How do we best reach out to small businesses – and what would work best for them?

These are just a few of the questions – and these are questions that can only be answered by research.

So what is keeping us back?

Domestic violence as a workplace issue is not being researched very much. As of the writing of this blog, it is my understanding that the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) has a Request for Proposal (RFP) out regarding domestic violence and the workplace – and so far only two research groups are looking into applying for those grants. Hesitation on the part of researchers themselves may be one part of the equation -- but there is an even more important part -- the hesitation of employers to participate and be "researched."

For whatever reason, many employers are reticent to become research partners –even when the research will be at no dollar cost to them. They are concerned about the employee time it will take to assist the researchers, employee time it will take to participate in surveys, focus groups, etc. Sometimes employers are concerned that their workplace experiences will be identified and from a public relations standpoint, they do not want their organization to be perceived as one having a “workplace problem.”

So – we have a big challenge ahead of us, don’t we? The name of the conference where I presented the “State of the Art” for domestic violence as a workplace violence issue included the phrase “Translating Research Into Practice.” I realized that for us, the issue is really “Translating Practice Into Research.”

There is some good news -- right now there are a few researchers looking into economic costs for domestic violence and the workplace – but the final results of that work is probably three to five years away. And those researchers are looking for employers that are willing to participate in their research.

In the coming months and years ahead, CAEPV will aspire to do all that we can to support and promote research in this field, and to provide employers with information regarding research opportunities in which they can participate.

It is my hope that in the coming years we will be able to say we are truly "translating research into practice."

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