What does one do when they work in a team environment in a facility that posters ‘respectful workplace’ and the workplace is actually not respectful? What if the recipient of disrespect is a Christian who upholds values of tolerance, generosity and peace? To add to the mix, this person is a Social Worker who brings a moral compass to the team, ensuring privacy, equity and accountability.
When Jane started her new job, she was embraced by the Team. She was told she was a ‘breath of fresh air’. She fulfilled her duties in a positive, upbeat manner, efficient, was approachable, caring and kind. Along the way, she met new friends on the team, people that shared common interests, had a passion for their work, and achieved healthy work/life balance. As in any work place, we all find people we gravitate to, trust, and enjoy. But as the months went by, a ‘trusted’ team member no longer talked to Jane, snubbed her in the hallway, seemed angered by her presence. She refused to attend events in the facility organized by Jane, even though it was an expectation that all disciplines be represented. What meetings she did attend, she was negative, confrontational and bordering on rude. Initially, Jane confided in her boss and it was suggested that as the Social Worker, she try to work out the problem with her peer. Jane’s boss was also new in her role and was focused on ‘positioning herself’ as a strong leader. As time went on, the situation became like an open wound and every exchange, glance, or encounter was like adding salt. Jane felt isolated, lost her enthusiasm and desire to go to work. She felt like she was ‘walking on eggshells’ and like the elephant in the room, people were aware of the situation but chose not to deal with it. Holmes (2010) writes “workplace bullying is a common issue with a high cost to your organization. Bullying can be a covert action, which can also make it difficult to detect. Many bullying tactics are often dismissed as personality or established norms in the workplace and is often carried out so expertly that it can be challenging to address.”
Jane eventually left her position. She vowed she would keep all her cards close to her chest and not allow herself to be vulnerable to anyone in a work situation. This ‘toxic’ workplace was new to her and her experience being on a team was “they had her back; they didn’t stab her back.” She would be professional, private, and polite but never engage in anything beyond her work role and hours. No more fresh baked cookies, unconditional positive regard, or upbeat engagement. Kimber (2012) writes in Canadian Living Magazine “a bully’s strength comes from your silence – if you confront a bully, they lose their power. The point is, your office bully is doing something wrong, and if you don’t speak up, how will anyone ever know?” Jane did try to speak up but by then her stress level was high, her confidence decreased and she had lost trust in her workplace. She detached herself emotionally and put her efforts into finding another job.
So what do we take from Jane’s story? As Christians, do we remain submissive to aggressive behavior towards ourselves? How far do we go in standing up for ourselves? For others? It is indeed true that there is no perfect workplace or perfect team. But what about the mission, vision and values that facilities boast yet lose good, hard-working people because they allow bullies to be bullies? What about leaders that don’t know how to lead? They don’t want any conflict yet the volcano they are avoiding is erupting at the speed of light! Why are ‘social niceties’ the way we deal with issues rather than getting to the core problem? It is like ‘life laced with sarcasm’. A recent movie I viewed called Carnage captures this very prevalent societal norm. Why do hard conversations get to the point of aggressive encounters that result in resignations in the workplace? In the case of the movie, civil conversation ensued to the point of rage, name-calling and character assassination! Words can cut so deep, hurt so hard and, suck the life-blood out of any soul. We may not be a war zone in Canada but the workplace is certainly not combat-free! Dare we dream of dynamic alternatives to injustices at the office?
One of the scriptures that best exemplifies the life of a social worker is found in Micah, where we are invited to Do Justice, Love Mercy, and Walk Humbly with our God. We may not be called to preach the gospel but to facilitate fairness and equity in the human race. That doesn’t exclude our worksites and it doesn’t mean getting lost in helping others and neglecting our own need for equity and fairness. God calls us to be reconciled with those we may have alienated and to risk vulnerability toward those who might reject us. But if the other party is closed to fairness, counters team building and is not open to justice in the workplace, the issue becomes bigger than one person being bullied. The team breaks down, people leave, and the problem (bully) stays. Part of justice in the workplace is making all team members accountable, equitable and fair to those they serve and to each other. That is part of the call.
Born and raised in New Brunswick, Nancy moved to Manitoba to further her education and ended up staying. She is a social worker in long-term care (geriatrics) but also has some younger clientale. She is one of the leaders of the prayers of the people in worship, and understands this role to be one of giving voice on behalf of the community as we stand open before God. She is overwhelmed with the goodness in her life and is able to maintain a healthy balance in mind, body and spirit by running.