Believers under threat
Pastoral Articles are provided as and when we put together contributions from believers involved in the particular difficulty that is highlighted. They are set out so as not only to state the particular circumstances as clearly as possible but also to suggest those strategies of help and comfort that have been experienced through the problem. This we trust will provide tools for a pastoral ministry by those facing the difficulty and those seeking to help them.
Bullying is defined as:
- Constant fault-finding and criticism of a trivial nature
- A constant refusal to acknowledge you and your achievements
- Constant attempts to undermine you, your position and potential
- Being isolated, ignored, and separated from colleagues, excluded from what’s going on
- Being humiliated, shouted at and threatened, often in front of others
- Having unrealistic goals set, which change as you approach them (From the Learning and Skills Council Be Safe booklet, page 20).
It may well be asked, ‘Isn’t bullying something that only children face in a school environment?’ The answer is a definite ‘No!’
Today, the adult world of business, health, education and many more areas of employment are driven by targets, levels of achievement, and league tables. Being competitive is key. Demands made upon managers and employees are increasingly challenging to perform to higher and higher levels. As a consequence, that pressure results in management methods that fulfil all the criteria given above – bullying. When targets are not met people often look for a scapegoat, someone whose performance has not matched expectations and who will be ‘sacrificed’ in order to preserve the rest and it is this whole ‘bullying scenario’ that this article seeks to deal with.
‘What had been your experience?’
The boss was difficult to deal with, someone whose moods were unpredictable and, at times, volatile. I had known what it was to be shouted at because I’d raised issues of legality or because I’d made a decision without seeking approval or because I would seek approval when it was felt I should have decided. I never knew what was the right thing to do! My boss tried to humiliate me by ignoring me, publicly sneering at me and in meetings seeking to draw me out to make statements against others so as to isolate me.
I struggled to work through the scriptural teaching, ‘with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men’, Eph. 6. 7. It was difficult to keep my eye on the Lord in my work when the environment in which I worked was so oppressive. I tried to keep my eye on fulfilling my job requirements and sometimes this just meant personal survival and nothing more. Some mornings on the way to work I had to stop the car and was literally sick at the roadside. This was sheer apprehension over the possible events of the coming day.
‘How did events come to a head?’
I entered a situation where the organisation was at the bottom of its decline; most of the staff had been appointed at the same time as me. The boss had the uncanny ability to keep us all separated and all apprehensive. He used what I called ‘brainwashing’ psychological techniques to cover his own total failure as a leader. We were all condemned as inferior, constantly, and thus were all demoralized together. Divide and rule was his way.
I suppose, based upon previous experience, I should have seen the problem coming but I didn’t. Performance figures were generally poor and, for my section of the organisation in particular, they had taken a serious dip in spite of my personal attempts to improve things. The reasons for that dip were quite complex, a ‘cocktail’ of causes, some of them generated by the actions of the senior managers of the organisation. Unrealistic targets were set and I was asked to implement many changes that I had forewarned them would cause other things to suffer. I was expecting a difficult review meeting but I was not expecting the reception committee and formal competence procedures to be implemented.
The boss had all the figures and presented them in a way that cast my work in the worst possible light. Every positive figure I offered was turned to a negative. The areas where the team had shown improvements were not mentioned. My presentation on the range of changes that I’d implemented to address the under performance was closed down and any attempt at a defence was ignored. In the end I sat there speechless as the procedures were read out and minuted.
‘How did you feel?’
I came out feeling completely shattered, shell-shocked. I knew that the competence procedures could see me out of work fairly promptly and the consequences for my family were too awful to contemplate. I suppose that I would also have to admit that I am the sort of person that tends to internalize things. This was the culmination of constant fault-finding and criticism that I had suffered from the boss over the previous twelve months. Before long, after such constant pressure, you lose all sense of your own worth and ability. I began to believe ‘the lie’ that I was worthless and useless, that I had no future in any similar employment. I had passed fifty, moving more towards the end of my career. I felt very vulnerable. My desire to get out was overwhelming and I had interviews with regards to changing my career altogether. My performance suffered drastically and I was fast becoming a mental wreck.
‘What was the impact of the events?’
The work situation began to deteriorate so much that it became clear to me that the climax of the issues was coming to a head. Staff who had been treated in a similar way were leaving suddenly and customers were complaining and ganging up to have something done. It couldn’t go on much longer and it was either leave or confront the issues and deal with them openly. Appeals to other authorities received little help or support when normally they should have intervened on my behalf.
The ones who felt the brunt of my circumstances were my family. The pressure and stress I felt was intense. I was sent home from work in tears. How close I came to a complete breakdown is difficult to know. My wife listened to my repetition of things, defended my actions, reminded me of my little successes and encouraged me in the things of the Lord. The family also rallied to support me.
‘What helped you through?’
A variety of factors have contributed to keeping me going. I cannot speak too highly of a supportive and spiritual wife. What a true ‘help meet’ she was! Probably the real help came when I saw that ‘a bully confronted is often a bully conquered’. An opportunity to confront the man privately, but with strong and emotional words and statements of intent on my part turned the day. At this point the boss went sick and things settled down somewhat and I began to regain confidence in my abilities to do the job and succeed.
One of the other helps was my involvement in the work of the assembly and in helping some of the other assemblies locally. Although there were times that I found it so difficult to focus, to study and to pray, I took some encouragement from what I was able to do. Here was a sphere where I was appreciated, where my ministry was welcomed, and where the saints were supportive in a general sense. They may not all have known the detail but they were prepared to pray, and to offer words of thanks for what I contributed to the work of the Lord generally. Here I learnt that while the world may place so little value upon my efforts the conscious sense of the Lord’s appreciation and presence in what I did was such a lift.
Also, it was the sympathy of brethren who were willing to share their own and very similar experiences with me. Knowing others had been through what I was experiencing was a great help and we talked long and often. The extent to which they were prepared to open their hearts to me must have cost them but what a blessing it brought to me!
Looking back I now see that the Lord was working on a number of fronts at the same time though I was unaware. I got a sideways job change, moved home and areas, came into an organisation that was caring and compensating and I learnt that my previous boss, despite our immense personal differences, had given me very high recommendations as to my professional life. The Lord gave clear scriptures that settled my mind that I was in His will and I see that more clearly now as I look back over those years. Despite my misgivings and doubts I now see the Lord was working it all out at the time.
Eventually there was ‘an enquiry’ into the goings on at this workplace and I was invited to give evidence as the only past member of staff to have gone on to gain promotion in the profession and who had worked under this particular boss! Truly His ways are past finding out and there is need, even in the darkest of experiences, to trust Him utterly and believe that He has a purpose and end in view that could be attained in no other way than the one He has chosen for us to go along. Sometimes it is so needful to ‘weep with them that weep’, Rom. 12. 15.