Church Office With Conflict

Question:

My daughter has been working at a small church office for three years. There are three women who are very unfriendly to her and have been working there for ten plus years. She is 29 years old,15-20 years younger, pretty, more educated and very good at her work.

The boss is very peased with her work and knows that the coworkers are not friendly with her but does not seem to be able to do much. He tells her that they are jealous of her and the amount of work that she does and to be patient.

She is polite to these ladies but is frustrated and would like to have a better work environement because she likes her job. What can she do?

Signed,

Concerned Mom


Answer:

Dear Concerned Mom:

I talked to a pastor friend, his support staff and several administrative people in another church, to see if their perspectives would be helpful.

They all thought your daughter’s boss–pastor or assistant pastor, or whatever role he has–is not very effective in a leadership role, and not very loyal to your daughter, in spite of her work! They also thought the other ladies, if they are being rude all the time, are not being very true to their faith, if they have one.

They gave me some suggestions, to which I added some ideas. Those are listed below. But before that, I wanted to also say that it may not be possible to bring about much change.

Church offices do not usually pay as well as some other work, so it is not like there is a huge line of people waiting for the job. Thus, firing someone–or in this case, three people–is not likely to happen, no matter how bad they treat a coworker. They would get in trouble for treating the pastor or other staff members badly, but probably a personality conflict between female support staff would not attract much concern. That’s sad, but it’s the truth.

Also, since a small church doesn’t have a Human Resources unit, nor does it have the business format of a private company, individual complaints usually do not carry the same weight.

If your daughter’s boss talked to the employees and told them to treat her better, they might not be openly hostile, but they certainly would not be more friendly. That would still be a bad situation.

So, maybe the first thing is for your daughter to decide what she wants out of this and what is realistic to expect. If she wants them to be as friendly and smiling with her as they are with each other, that probably isn’t going to happen. If she wants them to be civil, even if they are not particularly friendly, she might be able to get that to happen. (But it still would be unpleasant to work that way.)

She might find it easier to get another job than to tolerate three unpleasant people! But, if she wants to stay, here are some ideas from other people who have jobs similar to hers.

1. Since this is a church setting, this is a good time to apply faith-based responses. One way would be to ask the ladies for their prayers in dealing with a pesonal or professionally challenging situation. Or, to suggest that they pray for each other. Or, to mention that she prays for them. (That assumes that the employees share the faith of the church for which they’re working, which might not be the case.)

2. She could put her concerns in writing, to her boss, to reinforce how serious she is. She should mention specific things, not just general issues. That way anyone else looking at it will get a better picture of what is happening.

She should assume the email might be forwarded or copied, so her tone should be one of concern and frustration, rather than anger. She might want to emphasize the things she has done to try to make things beter. She should also say that if the boss can think of something she could change personally to help, she would like to know about it. Maybe there is some habit or behavior of hers that is frustrating to the women.

At the conclusion of the email or memo, she should make a clear statement to the effect that she wants to keep working there, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to stay positive, when the environment is so negative. Maybe that will help the boss know this isn’t going to go away, but your daughter might!

3. If your daughter’s boss has someone above him, (other than the obvious Diety!) she might ask her boss if the two of them could talk to the pastor or someone else, to get additional input about it.

The key here is to put the heat on him to do the right thing.

4. Your daughter could kindly confront rude behavior. For example, she could say, “Jan, you sound angry with me. Did I do something to cause that, or is it something else?” Or, “Margie, I didn’t mean to offend you. Did I?” Or, “Karen, I only asked a question, I didn’t mean to make you angry. Is there something I’ve done?”

Or, she might seriously ask them if there is some aspect of her behavior or performance that is causing conflict.

Perhaps she could suggest a monthly lunch together, or find something about work that she could share and that they’ve wanted to do.

She probably has tried all of those things after three years! That’s why I think it likely won’t improve unless one or all of them leave!

However, if I were your daughter, before I guit I would at least make an effort to improve things by writing a formal letter of concern, listing the specifics I mentioned.

I’m afraid none of those are magic solutions! If she really wants to stay, she may find the age-old solution of pitying them for being rude, and being gracious in spite of their behavior, is the only way to deal with it.

Best wishes with this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let me know what your daughter does and how it works out.

Tina Lewis Rowe