Workers’ Experiences of Workplace Bullying in Faith-Based Organisations: Developing a Policy Framework for Christian Churches in South-Eastern Nigeria

Chiabuotu, Godspower Ahamefula
Chile, Love
Crawley, David R
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

Workplace bullying as a growing social phenomenon has been intensively studied from various perspectives in the past three decades. What is known about bullying from these studies is that it is a complex phenomenon, constantly encountered wherever there are people with social inequity and power imbalance. While much of what we know in literature on workplace bullying comes from the experiences of workers in non-religious organizations, little is known about the practice, nature, prevalence, and impact of bullying in faith-based organizations. Therefore, this study focuses on the bullying experiences of workers in faith-based organizations owned by Christian churches in South Eastern Nigeria (SEN). The focus on Nigeria in relation to faith-based organizations is predicated on the fact that Nigerians are inherently steeped in religion and tradition. More importantly, SEN is chosen because Christianity is the dominant religion there. Churches have demonstrated capacity to integrate social and economic values through the establishment of schools and hospitals with employment opportunities. Hence, the aim of this study is to expand the frontiers of knowledge on what constitutes bullying in the experiences of church workers, then, create awareness and develop policy framework on workplace bullying for safe work environment.

This study is a qualitative design with semi-structured interviews and a purposive sample of 30 participants recruited from 11 FBOs based on their lived experiences in relation to workplace bullying. Relying on a hermeneutic phenomenological approach as my philosophical underpinning and applying the six structures in thematic analysis on the transcript, six significant findings emerge from this study. The first three findings are relevant to the question of what constitutes bullying in the lived experiences of church workers. Workplace bullying is associated with labour exploitations through poor remunerations (below national minimum wage), work overload and miscarriage of justice. From the perspective of Ubuntu moral theory and equity theory as my interpretive lenses, poor remuneration, work overload and miscarriage of justice are symbols of slavery and social inequity. They are commonly regarded as bullying because of the power imbalance and repetitive nature of these experiences on those who are vulnerable. Also, they are part of moral infractions against the agency of Ubuntu in African communities.

Three other significant findings are in relation to the impact of bullying on the work/ quality of services and how to reduce bullying in the workplace. One of the expected impacts of bullying as revealed in previous literature is that it leads to low productivity and quality of services. However, in this study some participants stated that their bullying experiences did not affect the quality of service they provided to their organizations. This was attributed to their spiritual values of prayer and personal love for their jobs as coping strategies. Thus, they suggested prayer, development of appropriate policies against bullying, and leadership competence as possible ways to reduce workplace bullying in FBOs. This study therefore concludes with a bullying policy framed with Ubuntu moral theory towards making FBOs in SEN safe for workers.

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