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"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader." ~ John Quincy Adams

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Christian Values in the Workplace By Coreen Trost


I’m a small-town girl with Christian values and high morals.  Ok, not a young girl, as a matter of fact, my children are all grown, and I no longer live in a small-town, but that’s where my story begins. I always considered myself a Christian mom while raising my sons with the values that were not only taught at home but in the church that we attended weekly as a family. 
The church I’m referring to was back in my hometown, the same one I attended as a young person and learned the values I still have today.  This church was where I taught Sunday School and all three of my boys were confirmed as Christians after attending 3 years of confirmation classes. While they were growing up and learning right from wrong, both at home and in school, this church assisted me in reinforcing those Christian values. 
What are Christian values?  Historically, the term Christian values refer to the teaching of Jesus and taught by Christians throughout religion history. A Christian, which I consider myself, is a person who believes in God and tries to follow the Christian teachings of Jesus.  I say ‘tries’ because no one on this Earth is perfect; we all make mistakes and even fail at times. 
Christian values to me are something we should all strive for in our everyday life.  These include hope, righteousness, love, being kind to one another, having compassion and empathy for those in need, and putting God first.  Evidence of someone having, or not having these values come from our deeds and actions.  These deeds, actions, and treatment of others are not only in one’s personal life, but in our businesses and community involvement.
Previously, about 5 years ago, I worked for a 2-year non-Christian community college only 5 minutes from where I lived.  Even though the benefits there were the best I’d ever had, with free medical insurance and 4 weeks’ vacation a year, and a comfortable job.  I worked for the Small Business development center as an administrative assistant; which is just a fancy title for secretary.   But apparently calling someone a secretary is not politically correct in this era of feminism and implies women don’t have the respect and equal opportunities that they should have. 
I’d worked in the same quiet, peaceful building off-site of the main campus for over 5 years.  I will admit I was bored at that position, but also perfectly content there, as I didn’t like change or too much responsibility at that time in my life.  After a major rehab and move of the SBD Center; I was offered a new position on the main campus.  Well not really, I was talked into this change because they wanted to cut my hours to half-time.  As a single parent of a special needs son, I needed to keep full-time employment and this ‘opportunity’ was all that was offered to me and propositioned as a ‘BIG’ promotion with a higher salary as opposed to an hourly wage. 
I apprehensively transferred to the student services department and I started training as a Communication Specialist.   A job I first embraced, since I love communication and thought I would enjoy working with people again, as opposed to being isolated, as I was many days in the position off campus that I previously held.  Although the job was easy and relatively stress-free, I had missed interacting and communicating with co-workers.  I was looking forward being on the main campus and having interactions with more people. 
So, I was quite disheartened when I saw that, although I would not be working alone any longer, I was still going to be isolated… in a tiny 12 x 12-foot box called the ‘communication room’ located in the far back corner of the admissions building with only 2-3 co-workers.  This office had no windows and crammed 4 employee workstations within its small square space.   I rarely saw let alone talked to, anyone outside my assigned area.
The only positive I saw at the time, was that I worked with another other ‘communication specialist’ who I got along with very well.  There were only two of us in charge of communication for the entire college campus.  We answered 80% of the emails and phone calls from prospective and current students, regarding every issue you can imagine.  From applying to the college, setting up entrance exams, answering housing questions, all the way to helping students complete and accept their financial aid.  
We were a good team and great at our jobs, however, we were always playing catchup as the emails, phone calls and voicemails literally NEVER ended.  Day after day I listened to the annoying ring of telephones and the constant sound of typing on keyboards; while communicating with the world outside the four walls via phone and email only.  No face to face communication, no engaging conversations, no control of the answers we gave.  
My co-workers and I also had little to no breaks and rarely any time to even eat lunch at our desk most days.  In this department ‘salary’ turned out to be a ploy to get employees to work 50+ hours a week.  I felt more stress and isolation than at any other time in my work life.  This environment started weighing on my mind and spirit after only a few months.  This was my first salary position, and I told myself it would be the last salary position I would ever accept.  
The department had a revolving door of staff being hired and then leaving out of frustration for the institution.  Our director knew we were unhappy; as we tried on numerous occasions to voice my concerns to her.  However, she continually ignored the deterioration of both the department she ran and the college leadership. It became apparent early on that she didn’t know how to motivate or lead people. 
Examples of her ‘laissez-faire leadership’ were refusing to take calls from upset students or parents.  Her disillusionment that the employees under her were fine was obvious whenever someone quit and she acted shocked that anyone would leave an organization that offered free health insurance and two weeks off at Christmas.  Her idea of leadership was having team building activities, that only caused our work to pile up while we were gone; to having ‘us’ organize staff pot-lucks each month.
I started off in the department liking my new boss.  In the beginning, I felt she was at least tolerable manager.  Feeling that way because I had certainly had worst in past positions.  After a few months, I found it hard to even respect her and after a year I found it hard to even like her as a person.   The communication techniques she used, and say ‘used’ as a loose term here, were to ignore her miserably unhappy staff, brush off complaints and to make excuses for poor treatment of employees and students alike.  Her leadership style was obviously laissez-faire because she avoided leading and thus being completely ineffective as a director.   She stayed in her glass office, literally it was an office surrounded by glass, including a glass door, and refused to take complaints from students or parents.
One day I received over a dozen phone calls from an adult student in our adult student program, much like the professional studies program at CU.  He was beyond offensive and crude.  We could not reason with him and what he wanted was out of our control.   He was abusive and threatening over the phone to me and my co-worker whenever we answered the phone.  Finally, we gave up and let his next phone call go to voice mail.  The voice mail was full of obscenities and threats to come to the main campus and cause bodily harm. 
I forwarded the voice mail to our director, the one in the glass office.  An hour later our director called me along with the other communication specialist, into her office.  We assumed she called us in to make sure we were alright, after dealing with such an out-of-line person; however, we should have known better.  The conversation started like this:
Lady boss in the glad office: “I’m not returning that phone call!” while pointing to her voice machine.  “The man was nasty!!!” she said.
Me: “He has been calling continually throughout the day and speaking to us like that every time.”  With what I'm sure, was a look of shock on my face, I also said: “We should not have to tolerate anyone being abusive to us, let alone someone threatening us.”
Lady boss in the glass office: “You two are the communication specialist!!”
Co-worker: “And you (stepping forward toward our boss’s desk) are now the director of this department and should be protecting your employees, not throwing them under the bus.  You wanted the job, now you need to put on your big girl pants and take care of this situation.”
My co-worker turned and started walking out of the office; while I stood there a second or two with my mouth hanging open.  I then quickly followed her out of the office, not making any eye contact with the ‘lady boss in the glass office.’  Later, my co-worker was called back into the boss’s office without me, where she threatened to quit and came back to our 12 x 12-foot box and just started answering the phones.  My co-worker had been there 18 years at that time and knew much more about the department than our boss did.  Apparently, our boss didn’t want to have to answer all our phone calls from then on... so she never said another word about our sending her abusive calls.
It’s difficult to have respect for someone who I refer to as an absolute empty shirt, or suit in this case.  She didn’t stand up for her staff or the students whom the enrollment service department was there to help.  Something totally inexcusable in my mind, was when she ignored the sexual abuse happening on campus, including not only covering us the incidents and lied to the public regarding campus safety.  She was also complacent with the abuse of power in the executive office; which often fired of good, long time employees just for speaking up or disagreed with the leadership.
Once she became our director, once of those in ‘leadership’ she became even less effective.  This “glass office” was all she cared about when fighting for a promotion the previous year.  In fact, the first thing she told our department when she was promoted to director earlier that year, was that she was getting the ‘glass office’.  The person who was running the department, and a true leader, moved to a corner office with no glass, not even a window.   
The college president used an autocratic leadership style as he was highly controlling.   It was clear to us during our boss’s promotion transition what types of people the college president surrounded himself with in regards to colleges’ leadership, which included directors as well as the vice-presidents in the executive office.  He certainly didn’t want anyone around him who would dare to disagree with him.  This resulted in the majority of the college’s leadership to not show a ‘consideration’ style of leadership.  I say that because the college president did not focus any concern for his employees or students, so neither did the leadership staff.
While I was employed there, many things occurred on that, relatively small but packed full campus.  Things such as the college covering up sexual assaults, not protecting its students, lying to prospective athletes and neglecting students with special needs.  All while taking money from the state and federal government for services they either rarely provide or in some cases not providing the extra steps needed to help students who needed extra help in the classroom. 
These types of incidents go against my Christian values and moral conscience.  Believing that students and staff were not being protected and given the respect they deserved, ultimately turned my normally positive attitude into a negative person speaking up against administrative decisions that irritated my conscience to the point that working for such an unethical organization started affecting my health and happiness.   
I felt overworked, stressed out and under appreciated while becoming more and more frustrated with our department and college as time went on.  To the point that I had this increasing desire to rebel against the establishment, that being the college leaders.  Which was not something that ever went well as I mentioned before, for those who did rebel against the college president or his policies.  I couldn’t wait to get away from that employer and find a ‘better’ job. 
After 7 years of having both enriching and gut wrenching experiences at this local community college, I finally decided to give up my free health insurance and apply for a new job somewhere else.  Once I started looking I found and applied for positions at a larger university in the neighboring state, a few more miles from my home.  This time it was a Christian college, so I was sure it would be a better place to be employed since it was a “Christian” named organization is was going to have open, honest communication and “Christian” values.  Right?!
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            I now work at a major university in a medical education setting.  It’s a combination of providing medicine to our local community as well as teaching current and future doctors at the same time.  The University I work for is a private non-profit that trains both medical student ‘future doctors’ along with residents and fellows, who are already doctors but who are currently training in a specialty area of their choosing.  Specialties can range from Pathology to Cardiology, to Anesthesiology and beyond.  The choices for a doctor to specialize in a specific or specialized medical area are almost endless.    
Our mission statement and values are ones providing care to those in need, no matter if that person or family can ever repay for the services our staff and facility provides.  The value of helping people in need of medical care, no matter race, social status or the ability to pay, is what our doctors, students and staff are most passionate about.  Therefore, they chose to attend and or work at a school with Jesuit values and a Christian base. 
While my co-workers and I are employed by the University, our place of work is not on a college campus, but within a private hospital setting.  A hospital that was originally owned by the University and at one time ran primarily by the School of Medicine.  Operating with the University’s Jesuit values and under the mission of helping the poor and indigent in the community in which it serves.  The Hippocratic oath our doctors take upon graduating medical school, have much the same principles.
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After accepting my new job, I immediately gave the local community college, where I was still employed, my resignation.  I must admit, I was probably a bit smug when giving the required two-week notice.  I told my director, boss at the time, I had gotten a “better” job, with a “higher” wage, at the ‘Big’ college 7 miles away.  She seemed surprised and a little disappointed.  By that point in time, I didn’t care anymore about loyalty or benefits.  I told myself I couldn’t work for an organization that didn’t have ‘Christian’ values. 
I was so excited when I started working for a Christian organization, in a health care hospital with a Christian name.  It was certainly going to be a kind caring environment, full of Christian values and compassion for all God’s children.   I was full of optimism and faith.  I soon learned that might not be a realistic expectation everywhere, or in any organization for that matter.
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After giving my 2-week notice, an occurrence I was extremely happy about, the real work for obtaining new employment began.  The hiring manager called me back and I was quickly educated on the multiple hiring steps it takes in order to work in a health care facility and large organization.  The initial conversation sent me into a tailspin… otherwise called an on-going anxiety attack, when I discovered that just because I had been offered the job, didn’t mean I was going to be accepted for the job.  There were background checks and drug test; neither of which concerned me in the least, they were just time-consuming.  Then came the physical, which is just a step to check off the new hire list, like filling out a W4… right?   Wrong!  Little did I know that because I would be working in a hospital and have contact with patients, I needed to pass several tests that I had not expected.  From lifting and endurance test to hearing and eye exams.  At one point during the hearing exam, it was quite clear I was not doing ‘well enough’ to pass.
The nurse performing the hearing test, an older nurse who happened to attend the same church I belonged to, had some good old Christian empathy, or simply took pity on me and my plight of needing a job and didn’t want me to have a meltdown in her exam room.  It could have also been that my anxiety attack was causing her concern and she didn’t want me to have a heart attack or stroke to happen on her watch… or during her testing time as it were in this case.  Either way and for whatever reason, I could retake the test.  This time she gave me some… ‘signs’ let’s say.  In the end, and with her ‘help’, I passed the hearing test.  Bless her heart!!  One stressful experience down and so much more to come as I would soon discover.
My first week was filled with a wide variety of training sessions, in multiple sessions and locations on the college’s main campus.   Training that included learning health care and medical terminology.  I have always been bad at pronouncing words I’m not formulary with and I can’t spell very well in normal communication.  Now I was learning to spell “big” words that I I could barely even pronounce at the time.  This lead me to have several anxiety attacks and even a few tearful meltdowns. 
I believe I told everyone at least a dozen times that I had quite a job for this job.  I may have left out that I ‘happily’ quit that previous job; because at this point, during my times of extreme stress, that job was looking a little better in the rear-view mirror.  Or maybe I was looking back with rose colored glasses after my ‘picture’ perfect job turned out to be something that wasn’t going to just be handed to me.  I was going to have to work for it.
Then there was the computer training and first aid classes.  The computer lessons were overwhelming at times; while the first aid classes often made me nauseous.   Let’s just say these training classes were stressful for both myself and the trainers who had the good fortune, or drew the short straw, for the ‘honor’ of having a stressed out ‘blonde’ in their training classes.  Somehow, and with the grace of God and my instructors, I made it through the two weeks of training and could now start my new job. 
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            The following week I was sent to my new job assignment in the hospital… where I started even more training.  When I walked into this ‘Christian’ hospital, one that also trained the next generation of exceptional doctors, I expected a professional and organized atmosphere.  After all, I now worked for a Christian college, in a hospital owned by a Christian organization… at least that’s what I thought.  Ok, I assumed based on the name of the corporation that owned the hospital.  Yes, I was naïve... but I’d rather tell myself that I was being optimistic at the time. 
            It turned out that even though I was told otherwise, the previous person in my new position, along with 3 other members of the department, had all left abruptly.  Leaving the department with no manager and no lead positions over the nurses.  They quit when the organization, the one with the ‘Christian’ name, merged with the University.  It seems that was another area where I was misled.  It wasn’t a merger really, it was more like a hostile takeover when a large corporation, the one with the ‘Christian’ name, bought out the hospital’s debt.  The merger, buyout or takeover, depending on who you asked, was not accepted by most the staff.  
            Instead of walking into a happy environment for of Christian positivity; I walked into a chaotic, negative environment with very unhappy people who felt betrayed by the university.  My new co-workers felt there had been very poor communication from both the university and the new organization now running the hospital.  I was in shock and disbelief, wondering what I had gotten myself into.  Being hired at my new job did not exactly turn into the bliss I imagined it to be.  ________________________________________________
Soon after this experience, I spoke to the pastor of my church about this transition and he pointed out that even a Church is a business organization.  That although their mission, a Christian churches mission anyway, is to spread Christianity… the teachings of Jesus and again the ‘Christian values” I’ve talked about in this paper.  This is when I came to the realization that no organization, a church, a hospital or doctor in private practice can run their business simply on their faith and values.  No organization is perfect and no one running an organization is perfect.  The bottom line I had to accept, was that not even a ‘Christian’ organization can ever be perfect.  Christian branded organizations, just like churches, are traditional businesses with “hierarchies, power/control relationships, and division of labor” (Hinderaker, A., & Garner, J. T. 2016). 
            I could understand these people in the hospital being upset; but after all, I had been through I could also see by now, that this is normal within organizations, especially when changes occur.  I also learned that even though communication doesn’t always happen they way we’d like, that sometimes it’s only when people speak up, specifically employees, that organizations find out how they feel.  Dissent is often what start the conversations on an issue of concern, bring about the communication needed to eventually bring about positive changes in an organization.  If employees didn’t stand up for themselves and even show their dissent at times, then nothing would ever improve.  Many times, in history the dissent of employees have led to positive changes in the workplace and organizations in general.  Changes such as improved benefits, as well as better treatment and safer working conditions for workers. 
In the article “An Examination of Organizational Dissent Events and Communication Channels: Perspectives of a Dissenter, Supervisors, and Coworkers” Garner, J. T. (2017).
Garner states that “Dissent is a vital process of organizational communication.”, he goes on to say that dissent, or unhappy employees speaking up, is a normal process that is important in organizations because it results in “improved decision-making, performance, and employee satisfaction” (Garner, J. T. 2017).
My new co-workers at first couldn’t understand why I was so happy to be working there; since they only saw the lack, what had been taken away or changed.  They didn’t know all that I’d gone through to get there.  I just smiled and said I had a different perspective because I’d had some pretty awful jobs in the past.  This was true, but not the whole story.  I had finally changed my perspective, how I choose to see the organizations around me.  Perspective, it’s all about perspective and good communication certainly helps too. 
This last employment move and my earlier experiences prepared me for much more than a longer drive to work.  Those experiences have kept me afloat, hanging onto hope.  All while life was pushing me further and further outside of my comfort zone.  Although I didn’t know it at the time, I eventually learned to appreciate not only the job skills but also the coping skills I had to learn as well.  If we didn’t have any negative experiences, we wouldn’t learn how to adjust to changing circumstances, cope with negative environments., or how important organizational communication is.
I believe that everything that happened before this change in employment and after has led to the opportunities I’ve received and continue to.  The older I get the clearer I can see how each event in my life has played a vital role in my growth and development, not only as an employee but more importantly as a Christian.  Although I stumble like everyone, I am striving to live a Christian life.  What does that mean? To me, it means being kind, honest and compassionate toward others.  I’m continually and  “mentally’ adding to the list in my head of what that totally encompasses.   The more I see going on in this world, the more convinced I am that the list is infinite.
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Changing employers remains one of my best decision.  I’m in a much better place now, even though everything didn’t always go as planned or in all the ways that I had expected.  I learned that there is no perfect job and was reminded that even ‘Christian’s’ fail.  That we use emotional labor in every job and in every organization. 
In the case of working under a ‘Christian’ organization many of us, I know I do, use ‘Spiritual Labor’ which is emotional labor, with an added and strong focus on our faith.  After reading an article “From Emotions to Spirituality: "Spiritual Labor" as the Commodification, Codification, and Regulation of Organizational Members' Spirituality”, I could totally see myself using ‘Spiritual Labor” (McGuire, T. 2010).  This seems to explain why the emotional labor I exhibited in previous work environments, was much more intense and draining on me.  Learning to control my emotional labor and keep negative situations or circumstances that I don’t agree with, in a realistic perspective.  Accepting that most everyone is doing what they feel is best, has provided me the ‘peace’ that I was looking for.  It turned out not to be in a specific, Christian organization, or ‘whatever’ environment I’m in, but the ‘peace’ I choose to have in my own mind and life. 

REFERENCES
Garner, J. T. (2017). An examination of organizational dissent events and communication channels: perspectives of a dissenter, supervisors, and coworkers. Communication Reports, 30(1), 26-38. doi:10.1080/08934215.2015.1128454
Hinderaker, A., & Garner, J. T. (2016). Speaking up on my way out the door: A close examination of church exit and members' dissent. Journal of Communication & Religion, 39(3), 21-40.
McGuire, T. (2010). From emotions to spirituality: "Spiritual labor" as the commodification, codification, and regulation of organizational members' spirituality. Management Communication Quarterly, 24(1), 74-103. doi:10.1177/0893318909351432

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