What If Employees Knew How Harmful a Simple ‘Hi’ Can Be…

What If Employees Knew How Harmful a Simple ‘Hi’ Can Be…

Did you know how seriously destructive or life threatening small and seemingly unimportant everyday action such as receiving a “hi” text message can be?

How is it that a simple “hi” be harmful you might ask? After all it’s hardly a threatening word, right? Most of us would agree a normal “hi” isn’t harmful, however for those of us exposed to domestic and family violence, this one word can create sheer terror in an instant.

This is exactly what happened to one of my clients Jane recently. She was at work and everything was on track for her to deliver on a tight midday deadline when everything went unexpectedly pear-shaped. You see, Jane had just stopped to get a cup of coffee when she found that “Hi!” text on her phone and in an instant her world stopped dead in its tracks.

Did you know receiving one word like this can immediately turn a person at risk of violence inside out at work, leaving them literally shaking in fear? This can often send staff straight into a state of hyper-vigilance and that’s exactly what happened to Jane.

Ok, so you may ask, what does hyper-vigilant mean?

Well, it’s just like what happened to Jane. It’s when you become immediately anxious and more often than not, you automatically go straight into survival mode in an attempt to protect yourself and your family, it’s where all else is forgotten in that moment.

Receiving that “hi” message can create an instantaneous heightened sense of alertness and without realising, you may automatically begin scanning your surroundings for sights, sounds, people or behaviours known to you to bring about threats. That one seemingly harmless word can often be a significant warning sign real danger is near.

Someone or something may silently happen to trigger this reaction, just like it did for Jane – after all no one else at her work knew what was really going on for her in that moment other than she missed her deadline and didn’t meet the required performance criteria. Jane was born into a wealthy family, was well qualified as a lawyer and no one would have ever guessed what was happening in her private life and the impacts it was having on her work.

Just imagine if we were like Jane – how could any one of us could begin to concentrate on work or day-to-day tasks if we were faced with the immediacy of real and significant danger? Research shows us for people in these precarious situations it, “can have a profound effect on people’s ability to work, health and financial situation. [#1]

These clever forms of intimidation, fear and subtle threats of violence are often perceived as non-threatening or inconsequential to others, especially for those of us in the workplace who have had no experiences of being harmed (thankfully) or haven’t been educated about the signs, enabling us to understand.

Abusive and controlling actions like this are all too often unintentionally minimised and dismissed as insignificant or trivial by family, friends, neighbours, work colleagues or others. On top of this and more often than not, these trivial or minor acts aren’t recognised as forms of abuse or threats of harm.

Now don’t get me wrong, we do care and naturally want to help when we know something is wrong, but the gap often lies in the fact we can sometimes misread the true situation. This is because many of us have not have been taught to recognise the signs of domestic and family violence, even though it may be as plain as day in existence right in front of us.

So, the next time you see or over-hear a response from someone and think to yourself “that’s an odd reaction over nothing” or “gosh aren’t you being a bit over-reactive”,  I implore you to stop and think what else may be silently going on for that person.

What if you could make a difference to someone you know or work with like Jane, who may be suffering in silence right now?  The great news is it’s not hard, it’s not costly, nor does it need to be complicated!

By learning how to recognise the signs of domestic violence and knowing what to do, you too can make a difference to keep staff safe at work and feel supported.


P.S. – Don’t forget we always change names for privacy reasons.

“Enhancing Trust and Confidence – Creating Safer, More Connected Workplaces”


[1] The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2018, New national statistical report sheds light on family violence, viewed 18 November 2018, < https://www.aihw.gov.au/news-media/media-releases/2018/february/new-national-statistical-report-sheds-light-on-fam >.

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