The signs can be less obvious that you might think – but knowing what to look for could save a colleague’s life.

As retailers reopen their doors, we’re being reunited with colleagues we haven’t seen for a while, and welcoming new people into our teams. Whilst it’s great to feel connected again – this is also an opportunity to look out for the wellbeing of our co-workers.

Due to lockdown, the number of people suffering domestic abuse has risen sharply. During the first seven weeks of lockdown, from March 2020, a call to police relating to domestic violence was made every 30 seconds, while two-thirds of women in abusive relationships reported that their situation worsened over the pandemic.

The long-term impact has yet to be seen – but we know that even before the pandemic, a quarter of women and one in six men experienced domestic abuse during their lifetime and that, tragically, two women a week and one man a month lost their lives to domestic abuse in the UK.

Due to these distressing figures, it’s likely that you’ll come into contact with colleagues who have experienced new or worsening incidents of domestic abuse over lockdown. Now is the time to be alert to any of the signs that a friend or colleague might be experiencing abuse at home, and reach out to offer support.

If you learn to recognise the signs, you could be the crucial difference between a person suffering from abuse staying silent or seeking help. Employers and colleagues can play a vital role in supporting colleagues in danger, simply by knowing what to look out for.

When we think of abuse, we tend to think of a broken arm or a black eye – signs any one of us would be worried about. But abuse takes many forms, including emotional, verbal and financial abuse, which means the signs aren’t always so obvious. For example, did you know that a colleague being extremely concerned about leaving work slightly early every day might be experiencing coercive control at home? Being able to identify the signs is critical and you might even play a part in saving someone’s life.

Here are the nine key signs to be aware of which could mean a person is experiencing domestic abuse.

1. Visible injuries

If someone has visible bruises, seems particularly accident-prone, or suffers repeated injuries that aren’t explained, it could mean they’re being physically harmed by someone at home.

2. A change in appearance

If a colleague starts wearing long-sleeved tops or tights during hot weather, when it’s not their usual behaviour it could be a sign that they’re covering up injuries sustained because of domestic abuse. People experiencing domestic abuse may also stop taking care of their appearance, or start to wear clothes that are very unlike their usual attire.

3. Signs of excess fatigue

If a person who previously had plenty of energy seems to be suffering from a lack of sleep, or is showing signs of living with a sleep disorder, it could be a sign something is wrong.

4. Frequent lateness or absences from work

Controlling behaviour often extends from home into the workplace, so if an employee or colleague is often absent from work, or has to leave early for vague reasons, it could mean they’re in an abusive relationship. If they don’t turn up to work without phoning in, that could be another warning sign.

5. A change in productivity

If a colleague’s standards suddenly drop, or they miss deadlines or meetings, it could be due to abuse at home. Similarly, if someone starts spending a lot of extra unnecessary time at work, that’s also something to pay attention to.

6. Behaving differently towards other people

Changes in behaviour, such as a colleague isolating themselves from their friends, family or colleagues could be a warning sign. Being more secretive about home life compared to usual is another indication to look out for.

7. A preoccupation with time-keeping

Because domestic abuse is often about control, sufferers can become preoccupied with their time-keeping – for example, insisting they have to leave work on the dot, or being excessively worried about being late. Look out for changes in behaviour.

8. Worries about children and pets

If your colleague seems worried about children or pets who are being cared for at home by a partner, there could be a reason why.

9. A colleague’s partner becoming noticeable to others

Abusers sometimes try to keep tabs on their partner even when they’re at work. Does a colleague’s partner call them frequently at work, persistently check in on their whereabouts, turn up at work unannounced, or attempt to contact their co-workers or manager? These could all be signs something’s wrong.

So, what do you do if you spot some of these signs and are worried about a colleague’s wellbeing? Next steps must be taken sensitively, and with your co-worker’s privacy in mind, but starting a discreet conversation to ask how they’re doing could be the first step to helping them to get the right professional support to leave an abusive relationship.

The nine signs we’ve listed could be due to a variety of factors, so never just assume a person is experiencing domestic abuse. Open the conversation with a general question such as, ‘I’ve noticed you seem distracted or upset lately – are you OK?’ or by letting them know you’re there for them if they have anything they’d like to talk about, or need support.

Make it clear that your colleague doesn’t have to tell you anything, and that your conversation will remain between the two of you. You can find more details on how to approach a colleague you’re worried about in our domestic abuse manager’s guide. Sign-up to our campaign and download your copy.

Where to find help

If you or someone you know may be suffering from abuse there are several specialist organisations that can help. For 24-hour support, call the National Domestic Abuse helpline on 0808 2000 247 or the Retail Trust helpline on 0808 801 0808. If you feel that you are in immediate danger, always call 999.