Hope for Resolving Workplace Conflict

President’s Views


I was serving as AFSA State VP when I wrote the November 2020 FSJ article, “Time for an Office of Conflict Resolution.” It was about the need for such an office because of the corrosive effect of bullying bosses on morale and the State Department’s work culture.

I noted that this phenomenon, not the formal complaints that led to grievances or EEOC filings, accounted for the most messages we received from our members about workplace conflict. (Please also see FSO Zia Ahmed’s eloquent January-February FSJ Speaking Out on why bullying has never truly been addressed and why we are all to blame.)

I am happy to report that the Workplace Conflict Prevention and Resolution Center (wCPRc) is about to be resourced and staffed up, hopefully as soon as this month or next, as the article from the Ombuds Office in this edition details.

Full disclosure: AFSA had hoped a new anti-bullying office would be established within the Bureau of Global Talent Management (GTM), as outlined in the original plan, with a dedicated investigatory arm and the ability to compel both sides in a workplace conflict to come to the table and abide by center decisions.

The original plan could not go forward, stymied by some congressional opposition. So we do appreciate the department’s willingness to think creatively, leverage existing authorities, and establish it under the Ombuds Office (S/O), which is part of the Secretary’s office and led by the very able ombuds herself.

We all want the wCPRc to have a real effect in stamping out the scourge of bullying in all its forms. Having a dedicated point of contact within the department for reporting these abuses is an important first step.

Previously, you could go to the ombuds if you were getting bullied, but that office did not have a mandate, the resources, or staff to triage at the case level. We hope they will now.

There are those who remain skeptical about what this new center can achieve, which is completely understandable. The Ombuds Office describes itself as confidential, informal, impartial, and independent. It does not formally investigate allegations of bullying or serve as an advocate for one side or the other in a workplace conflict. Nor does it issue binding decisions.

We ask that you engage with and provide feedback to the center if you use its services—and even if you don’t. The S/O can conduct consultations, coaching sessions, and climate surveys for individual offices or entire missions, as needed. The wCPRc will complement those functions by serving as a point of contact to review, triage, and refer individual cases to bureau executive offices, S/OCR, and other units as appropriate.

Please get involved, ask questions, and provide your thoughts. Once the center is up and running, please let AFSA know what you think of its operations and impact.

The wCPRc is meant to play a part in the oft-stated department effort to hold people accountable for their actions. That is something that AFSA strongly supports and deeply hopes will amount to more than just words. We know that many of our members believe the more senior the official, the less accountable for their own actions. We also know from the State Department’s Stay Survey and exit surveys of those resigning or retiring from the Foreign Service that this remains a big problem.

AFSA also hopes the department will give no quarter to the argument that the bully produces excellent analysis for Washington or that exigent circumstances “forced” the bully to act the way they did. When an office or post faces challenging circumstances, that is precisely when behaving appropriately and treating people with dignity are most important.

We hope that the ombuds will make the principle of accountability—regardless of who is involved or what the circumstances are—the overarching vision for wCPRc.

AFSA will do its part by engaging with the center to help ensure its activities and operations are as effective and transparent as possible. This is an initiative that must succeed.

If successful, the center can be an example for the other foreign affairs agencies, which no doubt suffer from the same affliction of workplace conflict. Please let us know what you think by writing me at yazdgerdi@afsa.org.

Tom Yazdgerdi is the president of the American Foreign Service Association.


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