Initiating a Training Program

Verizon Wireless shares its approach to educating employees about the impact of domestic violence in the workplace via a collaborative program that is accessible, cost effective and easily transferable to various company locations.

Monday, September 1, 2008
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As any HR professional knows, the next phone call or e-mail could be the most challenging one of his or her career. We are faced everyday with issues, problems, challenges and opportunities to contribute to our companies and to help our fellow employees.

As the senior HR executive at a company with more than 70,000 employees across the country, some of the most difficult and heartbreaking situations confronting us involve domestic violence -- its victims and its consequences.

Many people think that domestic violence is what its name implies -- domestic -- and that it only happens at home. But, we can't expect someone who is experiencing domestic violence to leave the worry, uncertainty and fear of what may happen to them or to their children at home when they come to work.

And, we can't expect those employees to perform at their best when dealing silently with domestic violence, or for their co-workers to understand how to behave.

Verizon Wireless' Situation

Verizon Wireless has long been a corporate leader in raising awareness of domestic violence through our HopeLine phone-recycling program and other efforts to support local domestic-violence-prevention organizations. Our employees know and are proud of our commitment to this issue. More important, we've created a culture where it's OK to talk about something that many might prefer to push under the rug.

However, despite all we do as a company to shine a light on this issue, we are not immune -- it still impacts our employees. A survey done by the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence in 2005 found that one in five employed adults over age 18 was affected by domestic violence. For a company the size of Verizon Wireless, that's potentially 14,000 people.

We have a steady stream of employees who seek our help with their unique situations, and we provide a corporate-wide response that includes collaboration among business leaders, Legal, Corporate Security and local community resources. Our company credo says that we run "to" a problem, not away, and we work together across the business to help each other.

Sometimes that involves changing a phone number or a work location to create a safer work environment for both the affected employee and his or her colleagues, or working with our corporate security team to make sure a court-issued restraining order is enforced at our locations.

Sometimes it involves talking with an employee's co-workers to help them understand what we are doing to ensure a safe work environment for everyone. Often, we bring in our employee-assistance program or other qualified professional to make sure the employee gets the proper counseling, support and advice.

And, while many aspects of our overall employee training touch on domestic violence, in late 2007 we added a dedicated training module on domestic violence and its impact on the workplace to heighten attention to this issue.

SafeWork Training

Once the decision was made to develop and offer training focused solely on the impact of domestic violence in the workplace, we chose to partner with Safe Horizon, a leading victim assistance organization based in New York. Safe Horizon had been working on a unique approach designed both to educate as many executives and managers as possible and to elevate awareness of this issue within corporations.

Together, we've implemented a training program called SafeWork. In the nine months since its introduction, more than 3,000 members of our team have participated. There was an initial cost to develop the certification model for our HR professionals and to develop training that would make sense for us. The investment has proven to be a great one.

Our company's specific needs for a training program were that it be:

* Accessible to employees with different levels of understanding of domestic violence;

* Easily replicated in many different locations; and

* Cost-effective to deliver, and sustainable as we move forward with new employees and new audiences.

We began by identifying 20 leaders across our human resources team to become certified trainers for the SafeWork program. These carefully selected individuals, some of whom had experience dealing with DV in the workplace or were personally impacted by domestic violence, and others who were outstanding facilitators, went through an intensive one-day course. They learned how to deliver the training, and discussed and anticipated some of the questions and issues that could arise during the sessions.

The training incorporates a short, powerful film that shows how domestic violence at home carries over to the workplace. It depicts a successful female leader who is being verbally and mentally abused by her husband, and is trying to maintain equilibrium at her job.

Other characters in the film include her manager and her co-worker, and the story raises questions about what colleagues should do in this, or a similar, situation. The film is unique. It is open-ended and doesn't provide pat or simple solutions or answers to the very complex subject of domestic violence in the workplace.

The facilitated discussion afterward, led by our certified trainers, is where the learning -- and workplace transformation -- takes place.

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We emphasize that our team does not have to be the "expert" when it comes to domestic violence. Our job, and the goal of the training, is to give our employees the tools they need to recognize when someone may be experiencing domestic violence, to understand both the impact on the employee and the business, and to respond appropriately to the situation.

One of the key elements of the training and one of our best implementation decisions was to team with Cigna, our EAP provider, to incorporate a counselor from a local domestic-violence-services agency. That person serves as an expert on local resources, services and laws, while our trainers are able to focus on company guidelines. The partnership has been extremely beneficial as we are able to rely on the experts to give practical, local advice.

Key Learnings and Impact

Verizon Wireless has always been committed to providing a violence-free environment for our employees and our customers -- a fact that is made clear in our Code of Conduct. The recent addition of the SafeWork training has aided that goal by giving our team an additional tool to use in recognizing and addressing domestic violence and the significant impact it has in the workplace.

We've seen increased collaboration among our HR professionals and business leaders as they deal with reported incidents of domestic violence. Our teams now have a network of people and resources through which they can share solutions to directly help employees and their managers.

We've asked Cigna to confidentially elicit more information from employees who may seek help because of domestic violence. While this effort is still in its early stages, we believe this added focus will demystify the challenge of working with employees on this extremely personal situation -- and empower our teams to more effectively help the employee.

Perhaps the most important outcome is the renewed awareness among our leadership team of the significant impact domestic violence has on our employees, the workplace, our business, and our communities.

Our goal at Verizon Wireless is quite simple: We want each of our 70,000 employees to achieve their maximum potential both in their professional and personal lives. Our focus on both a healthy and safe work and home environment will move us closer to achieving this goal and we will not stop until our mission is accomplished.

Martha Delehanty, vice president of human resources for Verizon Wireless, is responsible for all human resources strategies and programs, including employee relations, compensation and benefits, training and development, staffing, diversity and human resources compliance. She joined the company in 2000 serving as executive director -- employee relations. Previously, Delehanty was a field director for GTE Wireless. She holds a bachelor's degree in psychology from Mount Holyoke College and a master's degree in business from the University of Texas at Austin.

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