Reverend Wilson, Secretary of the new Community Faith Workers’ branch shares his thoughts on how to raise concerns in the workplace, and the importance of courteous and timely communication.
Let’s start with the good news. Most Faith Workers have good relationships with their employer. In my own case, I have found most church communities to be deeply caring towards those they employ, sensitive to their needs, and willing to go the extra mile to help. And when good practise happens it is to be recognised, celebrated and affirmed.
But problems can occur, and when they occur in workplace of ‘one’, it can be challenging to know what to do, and who to turn to for advice and guidance. Our sense of vocation (as well as our personal isolation) make us vulnerable to abuse. The lack of professional experience of many (most well-meaning) church volunteers in positions of authority also means that mistakes can be made, everything from incorrect salary or stipend deductions, to late payment of wages, or issues of personal responsibility. Who is responsible when something goes wrong in a faith community, the employee or the employer?
A good denomination (and most are that) will have effective policies and procedures to reference, and of course, Community is always available for advice and guidance. But most problems can and should be resolved without reference to process or to external interventions if we only remember the 3 Cs!
Perhaps that should be four Cs? Coffee? Over the years, time and time again I have found that it useful to raise concerns informally in the first instance. Go for that coffee! Raise the issue and raise it as soon as you become aware of it. To move quickly is important but be sensitive and provide the employer with a reasonable opportunity to resolve the issue. Most problem arise from mistakes not malevolence. Give the employer a reasonable opportunity to respond. Remember, if you were at fault and someone brought that fault to your attention, would you not also want a reasonable opportunity also to responds? Treating others as we would wish to be treated is still the golden rule.
Be courteous. Anger never works. And you can communicate urgency without losing your temper. If you are at this first, informal, stage, write down what you want to raise. Get your thoughts in order. Consider also the venue for an informal meeting. Somewhere neutral also has merit. If the matter is sensitive or confidential, the neutral venue will also need to be a private one. The Minister’s Study perhaps, if you are fortunate to have access to one?
Be clear. This is important. You need to bring not just the problem, but also the solution. What is it that you want the employer to do? When by? Make a note in your diary that an informal meeting has taken place and how, when, and where you have recorded your concern, the timeline for resolution should also be in place too. This might become important later. If an informal chat does not resolve the issue, then be prepared to put your concerns in writing. Remember again. Be courteous. Be clear.
Be correct. Check your facts before the conversation. Communications can be misread. Email always carry risk. The tone in which it is written and sent is not evident to the receiver. Take particular care when sending emails. Remember, never send anything that you could not stand over in a public forum. If you receive an abusive email, never respond in kind, but simply keep the same or future reference.
Over many years of happy ministry these basic rules have served me well. But above all, remember this, as union member you are not alone. If you have a problem, which persists, pick-up that phone, contact the union, for by supporting each other, we really can make a better working world.
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