by Eric Bonetti
Do you attend a parish that’s large enough to have multiple employees? If so, you’re lucky—many churches these days have few employees beyond an administrator and clergy, and there’s no guarantee that these are full-time positions.
But how effective are those employees? Do you provide a nurturing environment where employees can grow and thrive? A place where people look forward to coming to work?
On the flip side of the coin, does your staff provide a fun, caring environment in which parishioners feel empowered and loved?
Many times, the answer to these questions is murky, at best. Indeed, churches, which should be models of health and life, often are dismal places to work. And if they’re dismal places to work, you can bet that parishioners are feeling the effects, no matter how vibrant your parish may otherwise be.
If you’re wondering about the answers to these questions, check out these signs that your church may not be the employer you think it is, or want it to be.
1 .Decisions get deferred
Just like for-profits, deferring necessary decisions is a sign of a weak manager and trouble in the offing. Have an employee who’s just not working out? If you’ve been told multiple times that he or she will be going soon, you have a weak leader and quite possibly a trust issue as well.
2. Infrastructure’s lacking
If your parish has been around for more than a few months, you should have written policies and procedures and a personnel manual. And they need to be current. If that’s not the case, someone’ s not doing his job. And you’re really in bad shape if you don’t have a file for each employee, including copies of at least annual performance reviews, continuing education received, and other relevant information.
3. Here’s hoping….
“Maybe if we just give him a couple more months, he’ll do better.” Or, “Let’s hope Fr. Dave retires soon.” Sound familiar? If so, consider that an employee who’s the subject of this much concern already has had plenty of opportunity to solve the problem. Dream on. You’re not giving the person the benefit of the doubt. You’re avoiding the problem. And the longer you wait, the worse you make things for all involved.
4. Bullying goes unchecked
Have someone who likes to raise his voice to try to control situations? Sounds like a Marine drill sergeant when c hallenged? Or screams and yells in anger? If that person is still with you, it’s time to re-read your baptismal covenant (the little bit about the dignity of every human being), then take action.
5. Performance review? What’s that?
If you haven’t done performance reviews in a while, something is seriously wrong. Yes, we get that you are busy, but it’s not fair to deny your employees candid feedback or the opportunity for growth.
6. Letters of agreement haven’t been renewed
If your parish uses letters of agreement to set forth specific terms and conditions for each employee (hope you do!) these should be updated annually. If the last one you can find for a specific employee is several years old, you’re missing a great opportunity to periodically make sure that you’re current with legal and regulatory requirements, and that you’re keeping abreast with changing job requirements.
7. Your parish admin wouldn’t know the FMLA if it ran him over in a pickup truck
It’s unrealistic to think that your parish administrator will be an expert in all aspects of bookkeeping, HR, labor law and facilities management. But she has the right to professional development and training, and should be sufficiently familiar with issues like the recent changes to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to know when to head off trouble by calling in additional resources.
8. You’re not sure what folks do all day
This one floors me. If you’re reading this article, it’s pretty much a given that you’re very involved in your parish. And even so, you don’t know what someone does all day? You’ve got issues. Serious issues. Leaving aside the fact that a good supervisor manages to results, not to hours, start with communication and collaboration and go from there.
9. Your volunteers complain
Volunteers are the canary in the coal mine for any parish. If they’re making themselves scarce, or they’re visibly unhappy, it’s time to ask questions and get to the bottom of things. And you’re in double trouble if they are unhappy and underutilized. Nothing demotivates volunteers like realizing that they’re wasting their time.
10. The results aren’t there
Lights still out in your parking lot months or years after the bulb went out or the fixture went bad? Grass doesn’t get cut when it’s supposed to? Print materials have multiple errors in them? Sure signs that you have a performance management issue afoot, as folks are not being appropriately proactive.
11. Exit interviews aren’t happy events
In a healthy, well-run organization, exit interviews are marked with the regret of parting, but also the joyful promise of new opportunities for the person in transition. If instead your exit interviews are marked by lots of discussion about interpersonal conflict and challenges in the workplace, it’s time to sit up and pay attention.
12. People are developing survival strategies
Are parishioners seeking pastoral care over issues with staff? Or your well-adjusted employees hanging out together in order to provide mutual care and support? This shouldn’t have to happen if you’re addressing issues promptly. Time to dig in and ask some tough questions—and take action.
13. Your volunteers are filling the gaps
Every parish has a handful of go-to persons—folks who care enough to do whatever it takes. If you’re seeing that your paid staff is turning to them to get results, or you’re seeing your “Clydesdales” working long hours to keep your bulletins printed and your building in good repair despite the fact that you have staff, it’s time to find out from what’s going on. And if they point to an HR issue, address it immediately. Doing so is simply a matter of respect when you have someone who gives sacrificially.
Eric Bonetti is a former nonprofit professional with extensive change management experience. He now works as a realtor.