Choose Your Weapons
Regarding the biblical story of young David’s victory over the giant Goliath with a sling and a stone (1 Samuel 17), some wonder if David brought five stones with which to battle Goliath because of doubt. Others suggest he brought that many because Goliath had four equally as menacing—and large–brothers who might soon thunder over the rise. Still, others insist, David was just prepared.
However, no matter what the reason for the number of the stones, it’s the choice of weapons that forms the basis of my encouragement today. You see, we, too, thanks to the gifts of the Holy Spirit whether in concert or not with our natural abilities, have some “weapon”—or several–with which to battle our own enemies—be they on a traditional battlefield, in the home, in the workplace, or anywhere else. And like David’s gear, they may be quite unconventional.
Case in Point: a Toxic Workplace.
A number of years ago, in a place I worked then, a manger was hired to re-organize the agency. She came on board with charm and humor but within weeks we learned one of the reasons she was selected: to streamline the agency. We were at that time excited about this, as it was sorely needed. However, she chose some heartless methods.
A few long-term employees were “organized” right out of the agency. Perhaps the cruelest method was by re-defining their job positions, inviting them to re-apply, then informing them someone “more qualified” had been selected. The soon-to-be jobless employees were then assigned the task of training their own replacements.
Others in the agency were told one day at a meeting that they were now switched around, i.e., as of that day, assigned each others’ positions. They would have but a few weeks within which to move their offices, to train each other and/or their support staff (some of whom were also switched around) and to move their offices…
This was, of course, the tip of the iceberg.
Needless to say the situation was tense, heartbreaking for some, and the agency suffered the loss of several key employees.
However, of course, it did turn out to be very beneficial, financially, for the agency.
Everybody soon found out when attempting to see if we had any recourse to this painful re-organizing that we did not. The agency was a “hire/fire at will” organization. There were no union or employee advocacy mechanisms to assist us. Additionally, we soon found out, the top-level management team was in on the plan.
When the reality set in, we realized we were on our own.
Of course, some found other work and quit. Others, with families to feed and insurances to maintain, suffered through. Still others went on anxiety medication to work in the now, very toxic work environment.
And, as always and everywhere, a few jockeyed for position with the new manager.
Once the dust of realization settled, we started looking for help.
One of my sisters with whom I shared the dismaying situation, reminded me of the story of David’s “five, smooth stones.” In fact, she found five small river rocks and gave them to me as a reminder that, though the situation was bleak and employees were relatively powerless, we still had “weapons” with which to win what battles faced each of us. I put the five stones in a little container and kept them on my desk as a reminder.
As I meditated on the Bible story’s significance, I was encouraged. I prayed for wisdom and ideas. “What are MY ‘smooth stones?’” I wondered, both literally and spiritually. Pray, for starters, and I am an encourager, but there was some “skin on” this assignment, too, even as David carefully selected his projectiles, cinched up his sling, and took aim.
Some Practical Survival Tips
First, as a researcher, I delved into the topic of help for people in toxic work environments, and I shared them with interested co-workers. Generally, unless and/or until one is able to leave for other work, employees are encouraged to:
- Review all office policies and protocols to see if some mechanisms already in place might be accessed. (We did find a few policies to help us a little bit.) If employing policies, make sure any action is done with close adherence to protocol.
- Align with like-minded associates to support each other and to determine what skills each might contribute to address what can be addressed. (Although our manager did attempt to discourage ad hoc employee groups, even outside of work hours, we met anyway.)
- Access counseling benefits as needed, if insurance coverage includes this, and information on state labor laws.
- Take exceptionally good care of oneself. This is especially important because stress weakens the body and exacerbates any emotional/mental and/or psychological abuse that might be taking place which can then easily be used by toxic management to build a case against an employee where there is no union or advocacy group. Some reminders:
- Eat well.
- Try to get as much sleep as you can.
- Dress up to lift the spirit (it really does).
- Exercise (we organized walks on lunch and break times).
- Support each other with wisdom, de-briefing as needed, but taking care to get on with advocacy and assistance issues as well.
- Keep everything, and I mean EVERYTHING as public as is possible:
- Meetings (requesting, as appropriate, that a third-party be present if there are to be any “private meetings” with the toxic manager).
- Copy everyone relevant in any way to a topic when emailing.
- Document, document, document.
- Understand the nature of “hard ball office politics,” which include, among other tactics:
- Isolation and intimidation, aka, “divide and conquer”.
- Sudden announcements such as described above. Nowadays you might call this a “shock and awe” or traumatic event that, for a short period of time tends to paralyze victims, mentally and emotionally, during which time the perpetrator can accomplish much. This of course, only works best in non-union or non-employee-advocacy-group environments which comprise, still, upwards of approximately 85% of companies and organizations.
- The “4:30 Friday afternoon” meeting used to deliver bad news. This works because the employee has two whole days for the bad news to work on their minds, emotions, and physical health. It also serves to isolate the victim from at least immediate co-worker support because others have gone home for the weekend.
- This last is my own addition to this list of examples of hard ball office politics. When a work environment remains toxic for a period of time, it’s like a low-grade fever. The fever is not enough in itself, at first, to cause much damage, but if left untreated it can begin compromising the immune system, like a continuously toxic environment can cause long-term damage of one kind or another at work (or anywhere else, for that matter).
And I wasn’t the only one researching and investigating.
Those of us of like mind got together in various ad hoc support groups, meeting when and where we could, if just by conversations on walks. As needed, we shared information, supported each other however we could, and strategized.
Working together and pooling our various skills, our “weapons,” you might say, a group of us working individually and together made some headway over the next few years in developing new agency policy with regard to employee advocacy and got the attention of, and some help from, at least one member of the Board of Directors.
However, and I am sure the others would agree, by our efforts we were able to help maintain the clarity of mind and spirit needed, despite everything going on, to be able to continue as best we could the important international child and family humanitarian work of the agency.
Some wrote, some organized, some in “high places” kept us informed, most prayed, and all persevered.
Five smooth stones and a sling translated into a number of dedicated employees who, although in lower level positions, like young David, were still effective when we took individual and collective aim against the evil on our battleground.
What’s YOUR Weapon?
I’m sure you get the analogy: we each have a “pouch full of stones and a sling” of some sort, literally and spiritually, for whatever battleground we find ourselves in whether by choice or by chance.
As spiritual warriors, some intercede, some preach, some teach, some believe for healing and miracles and discern spirits. Others “having done all, stand firm…”
Like stones fit perfectly in slings, the weapons of our spiritual warfare frequently work in tandem with our natural skills and abilities when battling foes unseen that manifest in the seen.
Do you organize? Write? Speak? Teach? Cook? Work well with people? It’s all effective with God’s help and directed by the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
And I, for my part, continue to encourage: grab your sling and your stone.
Like David, who knew for and with Whom he really fought that giant, you will achieve victory over your own formidable foe, too.
Every weapon counts.