'Workship' - Bullying, Stress and the Toxic Workplace

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Posted by Marilyn Cole 5 months ago

This is Part Five of a six-part series that will look at Kara Martin's book, 'Workship: How to use your work to worship God.' Kara Martin is the keynote speaker at EdComm's annual Integral Project Dinner on October 25.

Stress at work is common even in the best workplaces. A 2015 Stress and Well-being survey by the Australian Psychological Society found a trending increase in workplace stress and anxiety, with 45% of Australians complaining of work-related stress (Martin, 2018, p.38). The causes are varied:

  • long working hours or unreasonable performance expectations
  • the physical environment
  • organisational practices, such as a lack of control over one's work, poor communication, or a lack of clarity about roles and responsibilities
  • changes at work, resulting in insecurity, high turnover, or stifled opportunity for promotion
  • new job demands (for which the worker is not skilled)
  • workplace relationships, including bullying, office politics, conflict, or competition
  • ethical challenges
  • external stressors like changing regulations or economic conditions over which the workplace has no control
  • a toxic work environment (Martin, 2018, p.37-38).

Most workers have little control over the stressors but they can control their responses.

We begin by acknowledging God’s sovereignty in all things and heeding Paul’s advice to the Christians in Thessalonica who were having a tough time at the hands of the Jewish community. Paul says 'encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no-one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of Christ Jesus for you' (1 Thessalonians 5:14-18). We can also be encouraged that suffering can have a positive character-forming function as Paul describes to the Roman Christians when he says 'More than that we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope ...' (Romans 5:3-5).

Kara Martin suggests that when we are stressed at work it is helpful to make a list of all the things that stress you, then make a list of how you would like these things to be. Consider if there is anything that is in your control to change and discuss the list and your possible responses with a friend (Martin, 2018, p.43). She also suggests doing the stress test found here and discussing the results with a friend, praying through the stress and keeping our identity in Christ not work.

There are also other practical measures you can take to help you to respond well to stressors: eating well, getting enough sleep and exercise; taking steps to gain more control over your work environment; practicing self-control and doing some relaxing hobbies or activities.

Bullying can be another stressor in the workplace. It is unpleasant and we may not recognise it for what it is, especially if it is happening in a Christian workplace where it is unexpected. If you are experiencing bullying Kara suggests that you:

  1. Don’t get emotional
  2. Don’t blame yourself
  3. Do your best work
  4. Build a support network
  5. Document everything
  6. Seek help
  7. Get counselling
  8. Stay healthy
  9. Educate yourself about the policies around inappropriate behavior or relationship difficulties
  10. Don’t expect to change the bully (Martin, 2018, p.55-56).

While the Bible tells us to ‘turn the other cheek’ (Matthew 5:38-39) and to ‘love our enemies’ (Matthew 5:44) we must balance these with ‘standing up for justice’ and ‘redeeming the culture of the workplace’, and recognising that reconciliation does not necessarily require giving up or giving in; loving confrontation may be preferable (Galatians 6:1-5) and may even help the bully.

In extreme situations a workplace can become toxic. This occurs when a workplace negatively impacts the workers to such an extent that it hardly seems sustainable. It goes against God's vision for work.

Kara outlines some characteristics of a toxic workplace:

  • hidden agendas characterise communication and decision-making
  • departments not working together, with no shared goals
  • leaders say one thing but do another
  • there is pressure to make things look good
  • the focus is on tasks not people
  • workers are manipulated through embarrassment or anger
  • people are apathetic, cynical, or lack hope
  • rules and procedures are mostly ignored
  • there is no accountability for decisions
  • people feel 'used' by the organisation, and are discarded when no longer useful (Martin, 2018).

Instead of abandoning such a workplace Kara draws on Paul’s advice to the Corinthian church which appears to have a toxic culture. Paul’s solution was to pray, name what was wrong, name what was right, remind the people to imitate Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:1), and most importantly: 'Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love' (1 Corinthians 16:13-14).

For those who choose to stay in such a culture Kara gives further advice for survival:

  • don’t expect people in a toxic workplace to respond 'normally’
  • accept the fact that you cannot change the culture unless you are the leader
  • set clear boundaries regarding what you will or will not do
  • don't accept false guilt from those trying to blame others
  • don’t take it personally (Matthew 11:28-30)
  • have people who will affirm you (Romans 12:3) (Martin, 2018, p.63).

Redeeming the workplace

While Jesus is the Redeemer, we are partners in this work of redeeming the workplace: restoring working relationships, wiping out corruption, making workplaces more hospitable and demonstrating what it means to enjoy the Lord’s favour (1 Corinthians 12:7-11). In this role we can be peacemakers involved in actively restoring damaged relationships and having agreements that are just and satisfactory to everyone involved. Having a spirit of forgiveness, open communication, and cooperative negotiation while pursuing reconciliation of broken relationships and seeking to restore each person’s sense of worth involves our being vulnerable, honest and forgiving (Galatians 6:1-3; Ephesians 4:1-3, 24) (Martin, 2018, p.58).


Martin, K. (2018). Workship 2: How to flourish at work. Singapore: Graceworks Private Limited.

Disclaimer: The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of EdComm or the Anglican Diocese of Sydney. The intent is to promote thinking and discussion.