Building a business case for intimate partner violence prevention

December 21, 2023

CREVAWC community director Barb MacQuarrie (pictured) is co-directing the new project alongside Economics professor Audra Bowlus.

Researchers at Western Education’s Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children (CREVAWC) are building a business case for why workplaces should invest in preventing intimate partner violence.

The work is tied to a new project titled, “Estimating the Financial Costs of Intimate Partner Violence to Workplaces.” The project is supported by $199,181 in funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), which was awarded through the agency’s 2022 Partnership Development Grants competition.

As the grant’s title suggests, the funding is intended to support the development of a partnership that is crucial for research deemed worthy of backing from the federal government.

For this project, researchers are looking to partner with three large Canadian companies who are willing to have their workplaces examined with the goal of calculating economic losses stemming from intimate partner violence (IPV).

Estimating the financial costs

Up until now, these financial costs were extrapolated using large data sets about a specific population, however there are two common problems associated with this method, according to Barb MacQuarrie, community director for CREVAWC. MacQuarrie is co-directing the project alongside Economics professor Audra Bowlus.

The first problem, MacQuarrie said, is that this method often produces results that significantly underestimate the full impact of intimate partner violence on workplaces due to a lack of relevant data.

The second problem is that it’s easy for employers to dismiss the data as a generalization and instead consider their workplace to be free of the costs of intimate partner violence.

“It’s not very motivating in terms of saying, ‘I’m going to address this problem because I know there is a productivity cost to it,’” MacQuarrie added.

Instead, the project will use a new methodology developed by Arístides Vara-Horna, a researcher based in San Martin de Porres University in Peru. His approach calculates lost productivity based on lateness, absenteeism and presenteeism.

“I was really impressed by his work. He’s developed a methodology to go directly to workplaces, survey employees and come up with costs for a specific workplace,” MacQuarrie said.

“These studies show very clearly in a specific workplace, here is your productivity cost and here is your financial cost.”

In 2019, MacQuarrie and Bowlus led a pilot of the methodology at a midsized university in southwestern Ontario. This was the first survey in North America to measure the economic costs of IPV to a specific workplace.

The survey found respondents who had been victims of IPV lose, on average, an additional month of lost days compared to respondents who have never experienced IPV. That translates to productivity losses on the order of 1.7 to 2.7 per cent of the workplace’s annual wage bill.

The pilot was also successful in identifying victims and perpetrators of IPV, as well as identifying if others in the workplace knew a co-worker was a victim and how that knowledge impacted them.

“We know the methodology will work in this context, now we need to revise that survey, make it stronger, and we want to go outside of a public sector context and into the private sector,” MacQuarrie added.

Moving into the private sector

The search is on for three large Canadian companies willing to take part in the project, and researchers will lean on the assistance of the Conference Board of Canada, a not-for-profit research organization that prides itself on the trust its built with Canadian businesses.

“We’re very confident that we can show employers that there’s a significant cost to ignoring the problem of intimate partner violence in your workplace,” MacQuarrie said.

MacQuarrie is also confident the research will open minds to the role that workplaces can play in shielding their employees from IPV.

“We’re still getting used to the idea that the workplace would have anything to do with intimate partner violence, and in fact, what we’re understanding more and more is that the workplace is a crucial partner in addressing this problem,” MacQuarrie said.

“They really have a lot to offer.”

The project is set to be complete in 2025 and will mark another step in what MacQuarrie describes as a “big vision” for the research team.

On top building new partnerships, researchers will also develop an educational model surrounding IPV prevention, as well as an evaluation framework to determine the model’s effectiveness in mitigating the financial costs of IPV and ultimately saving lives.

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