Saturday, May 17, 2014

Q is for Queries and Advices (about paid employment)

Quakers do not have a creed, but we do have a tradition of Advices and Queries. Both are encapsulations of Friends' testimonies and practices; both are designed to make us reflect upon how we view our beliefs and put them into action. If an Advice or Query gets under one's skin a bit, then it may be doing its job; on the other hand, material that is not relevant for one person may be for another. The principal difference between the Advices and Queries is that Advices are written in prose, while Queries are in the form of leading questions. Indeed, because of the similarities, some Yearly Meetings, such as Britain, have amalgamated related Advices and Queries. The most effective Advices and Queries are those that speak to core Quaker values but which can be updated, either on their own or as a complement to new such contributions, as needs and ideas change. An example of the latter is the increasing emphasis on environmental concerns, which arise naturally from Friends' traditional testimonies of equality, peace, and simplicity.

I had occasionally read of individuals writing their own Queries and/or Advices as a way of bringing their own lives into clearer focus (an article by Mark S. Carey in Friends Journal in the October 1, 2009 issue provides an excellent example) but had never done so myself until contributing to this blog. Because of recent and upcoming changes at work I have decided to write some related to employment. With this set of Queries I am concerned about paid employment, although unpaid labor, especially internships, is also relevant to many of these Queries.

A note to readers who are not Quakers: while the use of Queries and their specific formulations may arise out of the values and practice of the Religious Society of Friends, others may find them beneficial. Please feel free to substitute your own religious tradition, if you have one, for "Quakers" and "Friends," or supply any relevant secular philosophy. The only Query that is particular to Friends (and a few other groups) is the one on oath taking, but even there, oaths and affirmations, especially those of loyalty, may cause a wide variety of people to be skeptical. The Advice about lawsuits does not derive from an absolute prohibition, as there are examples of cases involving Quakers and their beliefs that have gone to high courts (in the USA, one may compare the Supreme Court cases Tinker v. Des Moines on the rights of high school students to free expression and United States v. Seeger on conscientious objection, although these cases are not related to the workplace). Furthermore, while some faith communities do not have a specific peace testimony or pacifist tradition, all responsible religious traditions and leaders that I know of wish to reduce the incidence of enmity, violence, and strife —wherever and whenever they arise.

A bit of personal background information: except for a brief hiatus in the winter of 2001, I have been a contract academic employee at the same Ontario university since 1999. My specialty is Classical Studies. I have also been employed by other universities in Canada and the United States. I have been connected with the bargaining unit of my faculty association, which is a recognized labour union in the Province of Ontario, since its inception. I have served it in formal and informal capacities, including the Bilateral Committee on Contract Academic Staff Office Space. In 2010 I organized and chaired a panel presentation and discussion on contingent faculty (also known as "adjuncts" and "contract academic faculty" or "contract academic staff" at the annual meeting of the Classical Association of the Middle West and South (CAMWS).

1. When investigating new employment or changes in a current job, do you look at how the opportunity reflects Friends' beliefs and your own values, as well as your career goals, financial needs, and personal and family considerations? Try to ensure that contracts are clearly written and mutually understood, with questions and concerns resolved in advance. To the extent possible, anticipate any major ethical conflicts that may arise in this position, and consider how you might deal with them. Will you be required to take an oath or affirmation; if so, how will you respond? If asked to provide medical information as a condition for undertaking or continuing employment, is this necessary and appropriate? If a conflict does arise, use it whenever possible as an opportunity to develop strategies to reduce the incidence of similar issues in the future.

2. One of the oldest Queries among Friends is, "How are love and unity maintained amongst you?" While this Query was originally aimed at maintaining harmony within the Quaker community, it may be reframed for the workplace, regardless of how secular that may be. Friends should be mindful that those they meet on the job are human beings first and parts of an administrative hierarchy second. Remember that we are all children of God, and work as equals with those whose backgrounds and viewpoints differ from your own. Be prepared to be challenged by different perspectives and new ideas.

3. Friends' testimonies of peace, equality, and integrity sometimes put people in workplace situations that may be uncomfortable at best. Act justly and fairly, whether you are an employer, employee, or both. If you employ others, in what ways do Quaker principles intersect with your responsibilities and the law? Regardless of your own position, do you seek avenues for mutually satisfactory resolutions when conflicts arise, either among individuals, or between those categorize as employees and management? Remember that some may be particularly vulnerable, particularly those of limited finances or who belong to groups that have been and often continue to be marginalized or oppressed. Do you strengthen opportunities for mediation? Avoid gossip and tale-bearing and maintain confidentiality as needed, while working toward transparency when this is possible and appropriate. Recuse yourself from actual and potential conflicts of interest. When differences arise, listen to all sides before arriving at a conclusion. People on all sides of a situation may need support; indeed, Quakers have often been asked or felt called to assist those who have taken an unpopular stand or who are accused of wrongdoing. Remember that disputes sometimes have innocent bystanders, and that it may not always be obvious who they are.

4. Regardless of how your workplace is structured, remember the rights of all to fair employment, and be aware your rights and those of others under the law. Do your part to help rectify labor laws that you believe are unjust or that leave employees with insufficient livelihood. If you are in the position to do so, ensure that job searches are ethical and transparent, and that they meet the requirements of the law and any union contracts. What are the laws concerning discrimination and harassment where you are, and how can they be improved? If there are unpaid internships where you work, is this appropriate? Although mindful of the needs of employers, be aware that people require stability in their jobs in order to support themselves and their families. In what ways can you ensure that those needing accommodation because of religion, family responsibilities, and disability receive support in accordance with the law, and with good will and to the satisfaction of all concerned?

5. Consider the role of labor unions and collective bargaining for various sectors of the economy. At the same time, however, be aware of realistic constraints on wages and benefits, and the need for businesses in the private sector to provide a reasonable return on investment. Globalization may affect your workplace in various ways. To what extent do the pay and working conditions in your employment, community, and country aggravate or improve economic and social mobility, while still providing appropriate rewards for merit and risk? Does your work situation help you and others plan for illness, retirement, or disability? If called to represent others, as on a workplace committee or tribunal, do you have or can you develop the qualifications to do so effectively while respecting the rights and responsibilities of all? If you are a member of a labor union, or a manager with oversight of union members,  try to anticipate what you might do if there is a strike or lockout. In the event of a workplace dispute or disruption, consider how Friends' testimonies may help defuse anger and frustration, while being aware of your own emotions and limitations. Remember that third parties may be hurt, and that all sides in a labor dispute may try to involve these third parties.

6. Friends often work at large entities that serve others, such as educational institutions, hospitals, stores, offices, and factories.    How do you relate to people who are not employees where you work, but upon whom your work may depend? If you become aware through your employment of injustice in the broader community, in what ways can your work help to prevent or remediate it? Consider how your understanding of Friends' testimonies may help provide a needed perspective on discrimination. Examine the possible systemic roots of such problems and seek ways to alleviate them, being especially mindful of any privilege you might have. Be aware of how your workplace and your own job or career might address environmental concerns.

7. Problems at work are inevitable. Can you see ways in which you might help keep them from escalating? If someone should break the law, how might you respond? Consider the right place for legal assistance, especially if you find yourself on the receiving end of discrimination, harassment, or threats, or if you are asked to break the law or to enforce an unethical law. If you are faced with a crisis at work, can you get help in confidence, such as appropriate legal advice or personal counseling, or assistance from a bargaining unit or employee association? In what circumstances, if any, might a committee of clearness or concern from your Meeting be right for you? Friends should particularly consider the moral and practical implications of lawsuits. In general, if a crisis arises, try to view it as an opportunity — for yourself, for others, or both.

8. Be mindful of your use of time on the job. Consider the needs of any family members while accepting your responsibility toward your employer and yourself to avoid inappropriate interruptions. Avoid procrastination. What is the appropriate use of technology where you work, and what is its abuse?

9. Be sure to care for yourself. If you find yourself depressed or anxious due to workplace demands, or if you find yourself using alcohol or other substances inappropriately, seek help promptly. Does your employment encroach on your needs and those of any family for adequate exercise and leisure, a balanced diet, medical attention, and rest and sleep? If you have a companion animal, does your schedule allow you to care for it properly? A vacation does not have to be expensive; can you take one? Do you take the legal holidays to which you are entitled or, if not, are you fairly compensated? Can you take parental or elder care leave? Do you have time to visit friends and family and to fulfill your responsibilities as a member of our Religious Society?

10. Know in advance where you can get immediate assistance if you should find someone with a medical emergency, or acting or about to act as a danger to him or herself or to others. Do not try to deal with these situations directly unless you are trained to do so.

11. Even if you work only for yourself, your workplace will have questions of governance. Wherever you work, consider the rights of any stockholders and investors and any fiduciary responsibilities in addition to legal requirements. Those who work directly or indirectly as civil servants often face special issues and may bear the brunt of broader political pressures. Those considering going into business or restructuring an existing one might examine the place of employee-owned companies. If you own or share ownership of a small business, what plans do you have for the day when you will no longer be connected with it? If you work for a non-profit organization, how do your values mesh with its governance, goals, and mandates?

12. Despite the best of intentions, not all workplace problems can be resolved satisfactorily.  How can you and others best move on if the need arises?

Original material ©Kristin Lord 2014

If you find yourself swimming with the sharks at work,
maybe you should take a day off and visit them at the aquarium.
Ripley Aquarium, Toronto, Canada
©Kristin Lord 2014

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