From Bullying to Happiness

Letter from the Editor


Almost everyone in the Foreign Service has a story about bullying or uncivil behavior on the job. This is likely true in any profession, but there are peculiarities in the FS context that make the problem difficult to address.

The “wait it out” culture of a career in which people change jobs and countries every few years; the fear of retribution or career-damaging evaluations (the bullying boss is your rater or reviewer); and doubt that anything positive would come out of reporting it—these are just a few of the reasons many remain silent in the face of bullying.

Addressing bullying behavior in the workplace is also tricky because, unlike “harassment” and “discrimination,” it hasn’t clearly fallen under any office’s authority to act.

State Department leadership has acknowledged the problem. AFSA has long been advocating for an anti-bullying office, as Tom Yazdgerdi notes in his President’s Views column, “Hope for Resolving Workplace Conflict.”

In December 2022, State management announced plans to create such an office, and in a Feb. 1 message to State employees, Under Secretary for Management John Bass announced establishment of a home office to address the problem—the Workplace Conflict Prevention and Resolution Center in the Office of the Ombuds.

In this month’s Straight from the Source, “Office of the Ombuds Takes on Bullying at State,” Brianna Bailey-Gevlin explains how it’s going to work. Like other SFTS articles, this one lays out the aims of a new policy, and we look to our readers in the FS community to respond with feedback on how it goes, what’s working and what’s not.

(For example, see “A Look at the New Learning Policy” in the March FSJ and, in this edition, responses to that SFTS piece from Alexis Ludwig, Ambassador James Jeffrey, and Don Jacobson.)

The lively discussion of issues of concern to the Foreign Service in these pages can, every so often, make a difference, so please help keep the foreign affairs agencies accountable by keeping us posted.

Ambassador Ana Escrogima offers practical advice on how to shrink the space for bullying in “Setting the Table for Inclusion: Five Things Leaders Can Do to Interrupt Toxic Behaviors.”

On the flip side of a toxic office culture is a healthy workplace, made possible by … happy leaders. Meet public diplomacy FSO Johanna Villalobos in the Speaking Out, “The Surprising Secret to Powerful Leadership.” She has spent the past year on a Cox fellowship studying the relationship between leadership and happiness, and she’s on to something.

What she’s finding in the growing (and trending) field of happiness studies, and how it can be applied in the Foreign Service context, is inspiring. It warrants consideration.

Which brings us to another factor in workplace well-being and productivity—diversity. Executive Order 14035: Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Federal Workplace (2021) states that more representative and inclusive workplaces yield higher-performing organizations.

And so we turn to FSO Scott Winton’s Feature, “First-Generation Professionals: Another Dimension of Diversity,” for a look at the challenges faced by first-generation college students, graduates, and professionals, as well as their great potential for broadening the department’s representation of the United States.

In the Retirement Supplement, we hear from FS retirees Ladd Connell, Patricia Haslach, and John Rendeiro, about the paths they chose in “Life After the Foreign Service.”

In FS Heritage, “The Department of State’s Reception Centers: Back to the Future,” FSO Matthew Asada tells the story of this little-known but possibly instructive early example of city and state diplomacy.

In the Reflection, “Get That Man a Chair,” former FSO Michael Varga tells his story of living with HIV. And in the Local Lens, FSO Andrea Nagy offers a bird’s-eye view of Kathmandu.

Look for the special centennial edition of the FSJ next month, including more than 50 mini-stories from practitioners for “FS Proud: 100 Words for 100 Years” and the first-place winning essay from the FSJ Centennial Writing Competition.

Meanwhile, keep in touch. Write to us at

Shawn Dorman is the editor of The Foreign Service Journal.


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