The Foreign Service Journal, April 2024

28 APRIL 2024 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL A “Zero Barrier” Oce Why is con dentiality so vital? Fear of potential retaliation can often limit one’s willingness to come forward and seek assistance with workplace con icts. When that happens, con ict can fester, bad behavior can go unchecked, and it can negatively a ect others in the workplace. For these reasons, S/O strictly adheres to its principle of con dentiality, which allows for frank and honest engagement. For example, names of those who engage with S/O and communications they have with the sta are kept con dential, shared only with the permission of the client. Likewise, information gathered during climate surveys that identi es issues, relays feedback, and provides recommendations is relayed to leadership in a way that is nonattributable. e goals of S/O include minimizing and mitigating con ict and helping those with whom they work to bring about positive change. Staying true to the principles of con dentiality and impartiality is essential to achieving those goals. As a result, S/O has a unique ability to serve as a “zero barrier” o ce for personnel across the department, where they can get support without fear and without judgment. S/O sta are not advocates for individuals or for management; nor is the o ce an investigatory body or enforcer of action. Rather, the S/O team serves as an independent resource for personnel at all levels to nd the best path forward for themselves and for the mission. Stang Up to Prevent and Address Bullying In 2024 a key goal of Ombuds Jeanne M. Juliao is to fully sta the Workplace Con ict Prevention and Resolution Center. anks to the support of senior department leadership, that goal is about to be achieved. According to Ombuds Juliao: “Fully sta ng the wCPRc is a vital part of the department’s strategic e ort to address con icts rooted in failed communications, bullying, and incivility.” In his Feb. 1, 2024, email to sta , Under Secretary of State for Management John R. Bass emphasized that State is committed to maintaining a workplace where everyone is treated with respect and dignity. Respondents to last year’s Stay Survey were clear, he added, that the department needed to do more to hold employees accountable for misconduct. Additional professionals are being added to S/O, he stated, and the o ce will work closely with the Bureau of Global Talent Management (GTM) and with the O ce of Civil Rights (S/OCR), which oversees the department’s Anti-Harassment Program as well as its Equal Employment Opportunity Program. e three o ces will work management at the earliest opportunity and the lowest possible level to enhance workplace communications, collaboration, and culture. To address organizational concerns, S/O provides skillsbuilding sessions and conducts climate surveys and analysis to help organizational leadership with information, options, and tools to e ectively address workplace con ict issues. With a broader, systemic view, S/O also collects and analyzes data, tracks trends, and develops proposals for institutional change as an adviser to senior department leadership. For example, if an individual or a post reaches out for assistance, S/O may begin with one-on-one conversations with a ected parties to gure out the root of the problem. If appropriate, a facilitated conversation could come next, giving each a structured and respectful environment to try to move forward in a positive direction. If it becomes clear that the e ects of interpersonal con icts extend well beyond two poorly communicating colleagues, S/O may provide further services. ese could include consultations and coaching sessions or perhaps an o ce or missionwide climate survey, gathering information on what is working well and where there are challenges for the team. When S/O conducts a climate survey, it analyzes the information and provides insights and actionable recommendations that acknowledge challenges, ensure individuals’ voices are heard, and address the underlying causes of con ict. S/O sta members have received extensive training in con ict management, coaching, mediation, and other means of alternate dispute resolution. e team is small but growing, and it is having a positive impact across the department. In 2023 S/O provided services to more than 500 individual department personnel at all levels, conducted 22 climate surveys, visited a dozen countries, and delivered numerous presentations, training, and skills-building sessions domestically and abroad. In a survey of its individual clients in 2023, more than 90 percent expressed their satisfaction with the services received, and more than 80 percent stated they’d recommend S/O’s services to others. S/O has a unique ability to serve as a “zero barrier” o„ce for personnel across the department, where they can get support without fear and without judgment.