The Foreign Service Journal, July-August 2022

AFSA NEWS 64 JULY-AUGUST 2022 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL Time for an Office of Conflict Resolution STATE VP VOICE | BY TOM YAZDGERDI AFSA NEWS Contact: | (202) 647-8160 Back in November 2020, I wrote about the need for an office of conflict resolu- tion that would be distinct from the State Department process for handling Equal Employment Opportunity, discipline and grievance matters. AFSA believed then and believes now that this is necessary because we have found that the vast major- ity of workplace conflicts do not fall neatly into any of the above categories—and there is currently no proven mechanism that has pro- vided a solution. These conflicts, which mainly involve toxic supervi- sors and bullying behavior, are left to fester and often just waited out until it is time to leave post or a domestic assignment. But we all know that’s not the way it should be. New office in GTM? AFSA has learned that there is a plan afoot to establish such an office. From our conversa- tions with GTM contacts and with Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources Brian McKeon, one of the challenges of the new office is determining who would be responsible for the investiga- tions. AFSA supports assigning this role to GTM, but we have heard that some stakehold- ers favor handing the task to Diplomatic Security. While DS could conduct the inves- tigations, these conflicts do not involve security matters, so it would make far more sense to place the function within GTM. Employees and resources would also be needed to staff up the new office, and it would need to have the authority to compel both sides of a conflict to come to the table. Indeed, the problem we have seen with the current setup is that if one side—usually the bully- ing boss—does not want to participate in any resolution, that’s the end of the story. Sustained effort needed. AFSA believes that to gener- ate the sustained effort necessary for its success, the new office should be institutionalized within GTM and have its own staff and budget. Some years ago, there was such an office within Human Resources. It had investigatory capability, and it helped many employees resolve problems. But when those who spearheaded the office’s establishment moved on to other assignments or duties, it unfortunately did not receive the resources it needed and ceased to exist. One of those who led this effort back then was Ambas- sador Marcia Bernicat, who was at the time (2012-2015) a deputy assistant secretary in the HR bureau. We are delighted that Amb. Bernicat was confirmed May 27 to be the Director General of the Foreign Service. AFSA hopes to engage with her on not only the (re) establishment of this office but also on a whole series of reforms that we think will make the Foreign Service a better and more rewarding place to work. Accountability: the name of the game. An office like this within GTM will help hold department employ- ees, especially supervisors, accountable for their actions. We must change our work culture so that bullying bosses and toxic behavior of any kind are no longer tolerated in the workplace, no matter how productive and hardworking someone is. To the extent it was ever given as an excuse, the ends should never justify the means. In AFSA’s February 2022 Survey on Leadership and Management, members highlighted as a key problem a lack of leadership account- ability, often commenting that leadership was not “walking the talk,” and that double standards of conduct exist between senior leaders (and their immediate subor- dinates) and all others. This works both ways, with mem- bers telling us that “problem” performers are not dealt with forthrightly by supervisors. As the new conflict resolution office comes into being, AFSA hopes it will be part of a package of reforms that emphasize accountabil- ity at all levels. Such reforms include the potential use of 360s in the employee evalu- ation review (EER) process so that selection boards know the views of peers and subordinates, not just supervisors. Admittedly, this will not easy, but it is not impossible and is sorely needed. Other government agencies, most notably the military, as well as the private sector, use 360 degree reviews as a tool to determine readiness to assume greater responsibility. In my experience, the only time I received unvar- nished feedback on my performance was when I took the required depart- ment leadership courses. Some of the comments and marks were a bit painful to see, but I found the exercise incredibly useful. Employees should not have to wait until they take these courses to get real and regular feed- back. Please let us know what you think at member@afsa. org. And have a safe and fun summer! n The new office should be institutionalized within GTM and have its own staff and budget.