Supervisor Gives Out Religious Material

Question:

We have a new manager who is highly religious. That’s fine. What isn’t is that she hands out scripture type material at work, then confronts people off the clock outside the building for throwing it away.

What can be done if our only manager above her does nothing, other than suggest that we confront her directly?

Signed,

Irritated Not Inspired


Answer:

DearĀ Irritated Not Inspired:

You apparently work in an organization without policies or rules about these things, as there should be. Sadly some people use poor judgment about mixing their personal lives and work.

This would be equally problematic if it involved politics, cosmetic ads, vitamin sales, or anything else. Even a good cause can become tiresome at work, especially if a supervisor is pushing it.

Your manager is in error to not direct the supervisor to stop. (I predict there will be other problems if that is the way the manager-supervisor relationship is going to be handled.) However, he or she is correct that, absent managerial action, the easiest way to deal with it is for employees to just say no and to say no adamantly.

You don’t indicate you’re afraid of being fired for not taking the material. So, stop this before it goes further and stop it directly. That will be more difficult for young employees or those without confidence, but perhaps you and others can provide support and encouragement to them.

1. The next time she gives you an item, be a broken record as you give it back to her. “Jan, I’ll just throw this away so take it back. I don’t want to get things like this at work.”

“Sorry Jan, I don’t give out or take things like this at work. You keep it because I don’t want it.”

“Hey Jan, I see you left something on my desk again. This is really awkward since you’re a supervisor, but I’m asking you to not put that kind of thing on my desk again.” “Jan, we found this material in our cublicles while ago. I thought we had all made it clear we don’t want it. I’m going to give it all back to you now, but please don’t do that again. We don’t want to have to make a complaint about it.” My personal preference is even more direct: “Jan, stop putting your religious material on my desk. I don’t like it and it’s making me start to dislike coming to work.” If she seems upset or angry at you, ask her to meet with you and the manager about it. Or, ask for a staff meeting where some policies and procedures can be developed to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

Or, as another option, have every employee send an email to your manager asking that the practice be stopped. A united front will often finally get someone’s attention. Cite as a reason that it is causing bad feelings between employees and their supervisor, which is never a good thing, and also that the issue itself is a distraction from the focus on work.

If you really do feel you can’t do anything else, you may find you have to go even over the head of your upper level manager, right to the owner or to whoever does have the authority to stop this silliness.

Think about how easy this situation really is. It’s not complicated at all. Your supervisor knows her actions are not welcome, because she has already had people throw some things away. Thus, I don’t think you need to worry about her delicate feelings. Just reject the material right when you get it and refuse to discuss it.

Now, having said all of that, here are some thoughts about what NOT to do. Don’t get involved with petty actions about it. For example, in one office with a similar situation, several of the people decided to allege they were part of other faiths and a few bizarre beliefs, and they brought leaflets about all of those to work. Work essentially stopped while that squabble went on.

In another office people saved up the material and put a stack of it on the coworker’s desk when she was gone. This created tearful allegations of feeling threatened. It was a mean-spirited way to handle things.

If you enjoy your work, you want to keep it cordial. So, since this wasn’t handled correctly to begin with, when every employee should have been more forceful and the manager should have stopped it immediately, do it the right way now. Be prepared for the next time and have a memorized statement ready to say, then say it. And say it again and again.

If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens with this. Your experiences may be helpful to others. Best wishes!

Tina Lewis Rowe