The Foreign Service Journal, April 2024

USAID VP VOICE | BY RANDY CHESTER AFSA NEWS THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | APRIL 2024 45 Contact: | (202) 712-5267 Tease (v.): To worry or irritate by persistent action which vexes or annoys (Oxford English Dictionary). I’m a middle child. My brothers and I were expert teasers; we gave and we received in equal measure. We all laughed—most of the time. When we didn’t, we stopped. We grew up, and the teasing declined. Looking back, the laughter seems less funny. According to the Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network, teasing becomes bullying when: • The content of the teasing turns from a˜ectionate to hostile. • There is a power imbalance. • The teasing occurs repeatedly. • The person teasing means to harm. • The person being teased is harmed. Bully (v.): To behave in an overbearing, intimidating, or aggressive manner; to seek to harm, intimidate, or coerce (OED). In high school, my friends and I did our best navigating the early 1980s Breakfast Club suburbia—no shame there. Largely ignored, we survived, but during sophomore year, I was targeted, and that year, I spent every morning break and lunch It’s Past Time to Stop the Bullying it, and 66 percent are aware that workplace bullying happens. The report goes on to show that men are more likely to be bullies than women, but that women are more likely to be bullied by women than men. The data doesn’t note differences between the private and public sector, but it’s no leap to say that our experience mirrors this study. You’d think at these rates, bullying would be illegal. Except for cyberbullying, again, you’d be wrong. Harassment (n.): Unwarranted speech or behavior causing annoyance, alarm, distress, or intimidation, usually occurring persistently (OED). The distinction between bullying and harassment is that when the bullying behavior is directed toward someone in a protected class, it becomes harassment. Harassment is illegal. The federal government has laws to protect employees from harassment. At USAID, the O£ce of Civil Rights is responsible for protecting employees and adjudicating harassment complaints, while the Employee Labor Relations O£ce handles misconduct, including bullying. The bar is high in both cases and proving that bullying has crossed over to harassment and/or discrimination takes time and e˜ort. period in dread, hiding from and avoiding my bullies. I’m not sure what my friends thought. A few connected the dots, but we never talked about it, and I never told anyone. Miraculously, the bullying stopped junior year. Maybe they got bored. Looking back, I had it easy. For three years, my classmate Mike couldn’t outrun his bullies, and he was often dumped into the nearest trash can while the rest of us looked on and school administrators looked away. According to a 2019 study by the National Center for Education Statistics, middle schoolers (grades 6-8) report bullying rates between 26 and 28 percent, while high school seniors reported a lower bullying rate of 15 percent. You’d think the decline would continue as we enter adulthood and the workforce. You’d be wrong. Everyone has a USAID story: Mine is about a boss who loved tossing furniture and an ambassador who verbally attacked and berated sta˜ in meetings. The excuses—it’s a rite of passage, I survived it, it builds character, it makes you stronger—are still commonly thrown about. According to the 2021 U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey, 30 percent of workers su˜er abusive conduct at work, 19 percent witness it, 49 percent are a˜ected by You’d think prevention would be simple, but it isn’t. USAID has been making a concerted e˜ort to tackle bullying and harassment through its Sta˜ Care program, which o˜ers a suite of resources. We have a misconduct reporting portal; employees undergo annual anti-bullying, anti-harassment, and anti-discrimination training; and there is a new deputy mission director mentoring program. Yet bullying persists. At AFSA’s USAID o£ce, we regularly hear from FSOs seeking solutions to bullying problems. I am encouraged by these calls as people seek guidance to file complaints, support their colleagues, and stand up to the bullies. But I’m also disappointed that there is a need to have these conversations. No one should have to face this issue. Mike came into his own senior year, and the bullying finally stopped. Forty years on, some of my high school friendships got stronger and some faded as we went to college, started families, and lived our varied lives, but these experiences still guide me. If you or someone you know is experiencing bullying or harassment, don’t hesitate to reach out, call it out, and provide support. n