In a departure from its normal practice, a recent Charity Commission’s enquiry into Save the Children focused solely on matters of employment and workplace culture. At its heart was the way that the charity dealt with allegations of sexual and other forms of harassment made against two members of its senior management.
“That’s all very interesting but…” If you were about to add “it couldn’t happen here at our church or charity”, I would urge you to stop and think again, because it does happen in churches and it could happen at yours.
Organisations have two clear lines of defence:
- Setting the right culture so as to avoid issues arising in the first place;
- Having a proper policy and procedures so that allegations are handled well.
Setting the right culture
The culture of an organisation is a vital long-term part of what makes it succeed or not – it is part of ‘good attitude’; one of the “A”s of Stewardship’s “AAA” rating of churches and charities. Secondly, it tends to be set right from the top.
For churches and Christian charities that is most often the trustees, the church minister(s) and elders or an organisation’s senior employees. Getting the right culture does not happen by accident, there has to be intention. What is acceptable behaviour in the workplace? How do we interact with the public? How do we communicate?
Thinking about it, or even writing it down in the form of a set of values, is not enough. Church and charity leaders should demonstrate a healthy culture in every aspect of leadership and engagement. Philippians 2: 15-16 speaks of us becoming blameless and pure, without fault in a warped and crooked generation so that we shine like stars. We are to be in stark contrast to what we so often see going on around us.
So do some of the simple things:
- Communicate in ways where you would not be embarrassed if other people read your e-mails;
- Conduct yourself with other people in ways that could not be criticised or misunderstood;
- Avoid unwanted attention or touching
- Remember what is “banter” or joking to you may be hurtful to others
- Avoid situations that may appear comprising, such as a closed meeting room
- Develop workplace practices that encourage healthy interaction;
- Encourage diversity within your trustee body;
- Remember life moves on. What might have been acceptable 10 or even five years ago may not be acceptable now.
Although we would all love to operate in an environment where complaints and allegations are never made; having proper procedures for dealing with them well may also be how we shine like stars.
Handling complaints and allegations
A little like insurance, reassuring but hopefully not needed, having in place a properly thought through policy and procedures on handling complaints and allegations is important. Reacting to an allegation is not something that you want to be making up “on the hoof”. Here are a few things to think about as you consider what a suitable policy and procedures might look like for you:
- Establish a channel for communication - make people aware of who they can approach if they have a concern;
- In a small church environment this is likely to be one of the trustees, in a larger charity structure it may well be a member of HR;
- Draw up a framework for dealing with complaints:
- Do not dismiss an allegation because you simply can’t believe it to be true
- Remember that it is likely to be difficult for the person making the allegation, so listen carefully and thoughtfully
- Respect the privacy of all parties concerned
- Manage expectations
- Communicate clearly
- Make sure that you keep good records of all discussions;
- Recognise when you might need specialist help or when you might need to alert other bodies
In 2 Corinthians we are reminded to do what is right in the eyes of God (a constant) and the eyes of man (ever changing). Save the Children did much that was right, but were still found to be lacking in some important areas.
By having a good ‘attitude’ at the very top of the organisation and then using these layers of defence; putting in place and cultivating a right culture and embedding a well-thought out complaints policy; churches and Christian charities are best placed to live out 2 Corinthians.