THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | MARCH 2019 63 AFSA NEWS NOTES FROM LABOR MANAGEMENT Conduct Issues and the Toxic Workplace Conduct issues are a special subset of performance man- agement and are directly linked to the problem of a toxic workplace. Conduct problems include a broad spectrum of issues from the less severe (e.g., tardiness) to the more serious (e.g., yelling, bully- ing, threatening). However, they are all best dealt with as soon as they arise, to prevent them from festering and poisoning the environ- ment. Both supervisors and employees are often reluc- tant to address conduct problems and toxic behav- ior, but they never get better with time. Also, supervisors have a responsibility to address misconduct proac- tively. If you’re the supervisor. If you’re a supervisor, take a look at the suggestions for conducting a performance management session in the performance manage- ment article on p. 78 of the November 2018 issue of The Foreign Service Journal. To supplement that guid- ance, here are some addi- tional suggestions: • Bring in your human resources officer as soon as you think there’s a problem. Overseas this is your HRO; domestically, contact your Executive Office. Have them explain the process of pro- gressive discipline to you. • Before you meet, pre- pare. Think about what you want to say. Write it out, and run it past the HRO. • Stay calm; stick to the issue at hand. Clearly describe the behavior at issue, why it’s a problem, how you expect it to change, and the consequences if it doesn’t. • Document, document, document. Add a memo to the file of what was dis- cussed. It may be appropri- ate to send a memo or email to the employee summariz- ing what was discussed. • Stick with it. If there’s no improvement, meet again and follow through with any next steps you said you would take. • If you need to move to discipline, be sure to involve HR in the process and work closely with them. • If the issue is less one of misbehavior and more one of (mis)communication, the Office of the Ombudsman can be a valuable resource. If you’re the employee. Employees often hesitate to complain about bad con- duct by supervisors or toxic workplaces, fearing retalia- tion. There are steps you can take to protect yourself. And remember, in order for things to change, some- one needs to speak up. Here are some things to keep in mind: • If the issue is relatively low level and you feel you have a good enough rela- tionship with your supervi- sor to do so, approach them directly. They may not even know that they’re doing something that bothers you, and may welcome having it brought to their attention. Be polite and respectful. • If that fails, or if you feel for any reason you can’t approach your supervisor, involve HR immediately (HRO or bureau Executive Office). Explain the problem and ask how they can help you. For instance, HR may be able to facilitate a con- versation between you and your supervisor. • If you feel harassed or bullied, you can always contact the Office of Civil Rights. You can file a complaint through OCR’s intranet site. You don’t need to know for certain that there’s an EEO component to the behavior. OCR will figure that out. • If you’re threatened with physical harm, contact your regional security officer (RSO) if you are overseas or Diplomatic Security (domes- tically). Let HR know, as well. Finally, whether you’re an employee or a supervi- sor, serving overseas or domestically, AFSA can help. You can contact your post representative, or you can contact the AFSA Labor Management team directly. We can explain your options, give you advice, or just listen sympathetically while you vent, if that’s what you need. But do speak up. Let someone in a position to help know there’s something wrong. People often hesitate to take on conduct problems for fear of putting a foot wrong, but the worst thing you can do is ignore the problem. n —Heather Townsend, Grievance Counselor Do speak up. Let someone in a position to help know there’s something wrong.