The Foreign Service Journal - March 2018

38 MARCH 2018 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL were doing this long before the hiring freeze came into effect, but now these connections are even more important. The number of Facebook and LinkedIn groups devoted to EFMs is hard to pin down because some are closed or secret, and new ones can be created at any time. The Associates of the Ameri- can Foreign Service Worldwide recently created FSHub, a col- lection of information useful to the Foreign Service community. FS Hub lists 36 different Facebook and LinkedIn groups under its “Foreign Service Social Media” category—and that doesn’t include post-specific sites, of which there are many. The online Foreign Service community can help family mem- bers cope with the feeling of isolation they sometimes experi- ence. Employment inside the mission helps EFMs get to know others at the embassy and feel like contributing members at post. “I’ve never felt so disconnected from the embassy community,” said one EFM at a large post in Asia, whose job offer is in limbo because of the freeze. “And that’s saying a lot, considering we live on a compound surrounded by U.S. embassy personnel.” Another spouse at a different post in Asia compares her experi- ence to her previous posting, where she was the Community Liaison Office coordinator (CLO). “I miss knowing everyone in my community and I have had a harder time feeling connected here,” said this spouse, who, like everyone else quoted in this article, requested anonymity due to sensitivity about the topic. Social media can provide the sense of community that family members would otherwise have found at work in the mission. There are Facebook groups devoted to EFMs who are business owners, entrepreneurs, yoga instructors, freelance writers and edi- tors, photographers and psychotherapists, to name a few. These groups offer support and a venue to share ideas that can help in the quest to find or create employment. The EFMBusiness Owners group alone has more than 700 members. A recent message asking if anyone had started a sepa- rate business owners’ group at their post got a flurry of responses. One EFM started a group at post not long after the hiring freeze began, with a few objectives in mind: “cross-pollination,” support, and insight on how to start a business or find work online. Another started a group that she called “EFMs Creating Careers.” Since the hiring freeze, she wrote, many EFMs have had to reassess their career trajectories and she felt a brainstorming group would be helpful. “We’re sharing resources we’ve found (like this Facebook group), helping each other set goals and stay motivated, and sharing contacts of people we each know in related fields.” These family members are doing exactly what they should be doing, according to Michelle Yaeger, a Foreign Service spouse and cofounder (with a military spouse) of Serving Talent, an employ- ment agency for Foreign Service and military family members. They are using—on social media or in person—their networks. She reports a particularly high increase in the number of resumés submitted by Foreign Service EFMs to their agency in the past few months. Splitting Up the Family, Or Waiting It Out? For some Foreign Service families, the need for full-time, stable employment at an acceptable salary is too great to wait out the freeze any longer. Conversations on the topic of Voluntary Sepa- rate Maintenance Allowance garnered far more comments than usual on the enormous Facebook group Trailing Houses, which boasts more than 12,000 members, all of whom are affiliated with the Foreign Service. VSMAmust be applied for and is not guaranteed, though “career” is named as one of the reasons it can be granted. It also does not fully cover the costs of maintaining two separate house- holds (allowance amounts differ depending on family size). For others, staying at post and making the best of it is the only S ince the State Department’s announcement that it would maintain the governmentwide hiring freeze that was lifted on April 12, 2017, AFSA has repeatedly pushed the department at the highest lev- els to exempt EFMs from the freeze on the grounds that EFM employment is not linked to FTE [full-time equivalent] employment; the EFMs perform vital embassy work and are less expensive to hire than contractors. While exemptions had been carved out incrementally during late 2017, AFSA consistently argued that these were not nearly enough. We were pleased to hear the Secretary’s announcement at the Dec. 12 town hall that the hiring freeze would be lifted in 2018 for EFMs. We understand that the effective date of the “unfreezing” was Jan. 7. It is AFSA’s hope that hiring will resume quickly to allow our EFM employees to continue the work that is critical to our posts overseas functioning effectively . AFSA Labor Management on the Freeze