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24 November 2011

Help, I also need somebody!

Help, I also need somebody!

One of the big challenges for those of us in any form of church leadership is how we equip and support individual Christians to engage positively within their workplaces. What we teach on a Sunday or discuss in our home groups needs to have some relevance to everyday discipleship matters. However, this becomes more complicated in the midst of financial pressures and cutbacks where people are not just losing their jobs but many are being asked to do much more than before with no changes to their pay or conditions. When does this actually become bullying behaviour and how as a church leader can you best advise and support people who experience any form of bullying in their workplace?

What is bullying at work?

It's when somebody, usually more senior, tries to intimidate another worker face to face or by email, phone, or in writing. It's usually in front of others although doesn't have to be. It can include physical or verbal violence, humiliating someone, regularly treating them unfairly or constantly passing them over for promotion or training. Frequents threats of sacking or constantly giving them too much to do so that they fail in their work also can be bullying behaviour.

How can you best help someone who thinks they're being bullied at work?

  • Provide opportunity and space for them to talk with you freely, to express strong feelings they may have, and knowing they won't be judged by you
  • Try to find out what is actually happening, how regularly, whether it is part of the general workplace culture or focused on this one individual
  • Be aware that the situation may be more complex than the individual is expressing and that there is usually more than one side to a story - so avoid colluding with them re the awfulness of the other person
  • Help them identify their key objections, the areas in which it is really necessary for change to happen, and to be realistic about what is unlikely to change
  • Help them think about what they could do to improve the situation
  • Talk through the possible ways forward below with them
  • If the stress is affecting their health advise them to visit their GP
  • Conclude by praying with them and ensuring they are in some way receiving regular prayer support that also maintains necessary confidentiality

Some ways forward

You should advise them to

  • Seek informal advice within the workplace by talking with either their manager, a trade union representative, or someone in the HR department
  • Fix a time to meet the person in question and talk to them in a calm non-accusatory manner - having prepared what they want to say beforehand including describing what's been happening, how it's affecting them, and their reasons for objecting to it
  • If necessary ask someone else to accompany them or speak on their behalf if they really cannot face it
  • Keep a written record and description of each incident plus copies of all relevant documents
  • If the matter cannot be dealt with informally then take out a grievance under their employer's grievance procedure
  • Make the complaint in writing and if the bully is their direct manager they should ask that they pass it to another manager to deal with. If this doesn't happen they should make a written complaint to either their boss's manager or to the HR department
  • Think about legal action if nothing changes even after they've followed their employer's grievance procedure. This may mean going to an Employment Tribunal but they should get legal advice before taking this step
  • Bear in mind that it is not possible to go to an Employment Tribunal directly over bullying but complaints can be made under laws covering discrimination, harassment and unfair dismissal
  • Only consider leaving their employment as a last resort and before doing so get legal advice concerning whether they could make a claim against their employer for 'constructive dismissal' - this is when an employee is forced to quit their job because of their employer's conduct. Remember this can be difficult to prove

Fran Beckett OBE
Consultant - Anthony Collins Solicitors

Matthew Wort
Solicitor - Anthony Collins Solicitors