SASKATOON — “Here is the church, here is the steeple; open the door and see all the people.”
With that simple childhood finger play, Patrick J. Clarke summarizes why the church needs to address human resources issues — because the church involves people.
Wherever there are human beings serving as managers and employees, there will be a need to deal with conflict resolution, job descriptions and employment policies, as well as hiring, firing, and everything in between, says Clarke, who began working as the full-time human resources (HR) manager for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon in September.
“We may think that because we are a church, and we are all about love, we don’t have these kinds of problems — but we do,” Clarke told a recent gathering of deanery and diocesan representatives on the former Diocesan Pastoral Council, which acts as a consultative body when there is a bishop in place. (The group has continued to meet with diocesan leadership pending the appointment of a new bishop.)
Before Clarke was hired as HR manager, the diocese had contracted human resources expertise on a part-time basis for several years. Clarke brings his training in business administration and his 22 years of experience in church ministry and leadership to this new role of assisting the diocese with all matters relating to employment and employee management.
Employees of the Diocese of Saskatoon include anyone hired in any of the diocese’s 95 parishes — including parish life directors (PLDs), pastoral associates, youth ministers, bookkeepers, secretaries and maintenance personnel — or those employed in the ministries and offices at the chancery or Catholic Pastoral Centre.
Priests are not considered employees as they are serving by virtue of a vocational call, but the HR manager can provide assistance with issues affecting clergy as well, and support for their role as managers of parish employees. The diocesan HR office can also assist with nurturing healthy relationships with church volunteers, notes Clarke.
He describes his dual role of “helping” and “dealing” with relationships as a continuum: the more energy spent on one means less energy spent on the other.
The more time and energy that is proactively spent helping things go well in relationships, the less time will be spent dealing with things that go wrong — just as with any of our relationships in life, Clarke says.
“Often, by the time I’m called in to assist in ‘dealing’ (with things that have gone wrong), in many cases the parties are kind of reaching their wits’ end. It doesn’t mean it’s going to dissolve altogether, but the wheels are starting to come loose,” he says. “When it comes to the employment relationship, beginning well is really the key. And beginning well means clarifying expectations right out of the gate.”
Clarifying job descriptions and finding ways to place “the right people in the right jobs doing the right things” are key in avoiding conflict down the line, he describes. A thorough orientation and “onboarding” period of enculturation and socialization for new employees is also important, as is ongoing training and development and regular job reviews. Development of clear, consistent and effective policies and management practices also prevents problems.
“It is incumbent upon management to make this whole thing work. It’s too easy to blame the employees when it isn’t working,” Clarke says. “If you manage a staff, it is your job to make this work. But the managers need help. All our clergy, our PLDs, all our managers need help — especially in navigating the people business.”
That’s precisely where Clarke provides assistance, both in addressing individual situations and working on diocesan policies.
When it comes to conflict resolution, Clarke will sit with the parties involved to try and hammer out an agreement or solution. “This has already happened since I’ve started — once between two individuals and once between two groups.”
In instances requiring employee correction or discipline, Clarke works with the manager to ensure there is really a problem, whether the correction is appropriate and proportional, and crafting the message that needs to be delivered — as well as coaching them on how to manage the relationship after the fact.
As for job termination, Clarke has assisted with one such situation since he started. “By the time I get this call, the relationship will likely have dissolved to a point of no return,” he admits. But in the face of a termination and in its wake, there are steps Clarke takes to ensure the termination is carried out legally, fairly and respectfully.
“Then there’s the fallout. As the HR manager, my role is an impartial role; I’m not on the side of management and I’m not on the side of the employee. So I need to provide support to two individuals and to one group of people,” he says, citing the manager, the terminated employee and the surviving staff as those that “need a listening ear” in this situation.
In a pastoral spirit, Clarke is eager to focus on the “helping tools” he can offer when it comes to the selection and mentoring of employees across the diocese, and minimizing and preventing conflict. This includes a Work Personality Index, the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Model, and an Arbinger Institute tool for moving people from an inward to an outward mindset.
Updating the diocese’s administration manual and employment policies is another priority, along with fine-tuning the “onboarding” process for new employees, and continuing to work on orientation resources for new clergy coming to the diocese from other countries.
Director of Pastoral Services Blake Sittler says Clarke’s role is vital in the diocese. He quoted a previous diocesan HR consultant, who said that all the HR challenges of the secular work world also exist in the church.
“I have seen many good people leave work in the church with a black eye, and that’s unfortunate,” says Sittler, stressing good HR policies can help the church build and sustain healthy relationships.
“Some fear that HR policies will create a corporate-like atmosphere. The opposite is true. The policies that Pat will be developing will lead to more fairness, more dialogue, more ongoing evaluation, and frankly, better ministry,” Sittler said.