Page 47 - FSJ June 2012

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he United States Foreign Service is no place for wimps,
wusses, whiners or dorks. We play in the big leagues. We
play hardball. And if you can’t play hardball, you should
not be on our team.
For many FS members, particularly those of a certain age,
that understanding is a key component of our culture. It derives
fromthe fact that theworkwe do is important, demanding and
visible. Our star “players” are senior executives of our nation’s
government; our personnel system is highly competitive. The
Service is no place for the weak or the timid or the lazy. And
that can sometimes obscure a significant threat toForeignService
In themembership surveys I have overseen—and in griev-
ances, complaints and requests for AFSA assistance — sig-
nificant numbers of members complain about “toxic” boss-
es, “aggressive” colleagues, “shouters,” “throwers” and other
subspecies of Tyrannus locus operari, the commonworkplace
Typically, these people are managers but they could also be
colleagues or subordinates. Also typically, they are nasty to every-
one, though they could also have one or more carefully select-
ed victims. They are more likely to bully women thanmen—
even when the bully is female herself. They are likely to bully
people different than themselves. And they are very likely to
justify their bullying in the terms stated at the beginning of this
article: this is a difficult business, and the victimof their aggres-
sion is somehownot living up to the legitimate demands of the
Some see their subordinates’ suffering as dues, which allmust
pay on their way up the career ladder. Some see themselves in
a developmental role, as the tough drill sergeant determined to
whipaproblememployee into shape. And some are either obliv-
ious of their own actions, or consider their curmudgeonly crusti-
ness to be an integral part of their own lovable personalities.
There is nothing lovable about bullies. Nor do they serve
any laudable function for theorganization. Considerable research
and evidence indicate that when people are bullied, their pro-
ductivity drops and they lose their motivation to performwell.
The stress of being bulliedhas physiological effects, reducing the
victim’s ability to concentrate, communicate or remember task-
ings. Bullying also reduces the victim’s energy level.
Targets of bullying become less productive, less creative, less
committed to theirwork, less loyal, less accommodating to clients
or customers and less likely to assist other colleagues. They go
out of their way to avoid their tormentor, sometimes choosing
to stay at home to avoid their hostile work environment. And
because they are stressed, they are more likely to become sick
and remain sick for longer periods than their less-stressed col-
Bullying can havemorale and productivity effects through-
out an entire office — including for those who are not bullied
themselves. At one small post, where the ambassadorwas alleged-
ly a bully, AFSA assisted roughly a quarter of the post with cur-
tailments; this not only reduced the effectiveness of themission,
but cost the department time,money and energy. When a prob-
lemreaches that level, it canaffect the ability to recruit, themorale
of locally employed staff, the tenure of affected entry-level offi-
cers and even the U.S. government’s image among local con-
tacts and host country officials.
AFSA is addressing the issue in a number of ways:
•We areworkingwith the department to separateworkplace
bullying fromother forms ofmalfeasance in an effort to increase
the likelihood that bullies can be identified, disciplined or
•We helpeddevelop online training and guidance for super-
• We negotiated the core precepts to require all employees
at all levels to avoid hostile work environments, reward those
who report a hostile work environment and punish those who
create it.
•We are encouraging theOffice ofMedical Services and the
Bureauof Diplomatic Security to guarantee that careers will not
be harmed as a result of receiving counseling for stress.
• We regularly help clients seek new positions or take other
actions to separate or protect themselves from bullies.
• We are urging the department to develop better ways to
monitor bullying behavior by tracking such symptoms as a high
rate of curtailment, similar grievances against specific supervi-
sors and broader use of 360-degree evaluations.
Still, much more remains to be done. I ask for your sug-
gestions and insights to reduce the damage to morale and effi-
ciency caused by bullying in the workplace.
The Cost of Workplace Bullying
Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA State VP.
J UN E 2 0 1 2 / F OR E I GN S E R V I C E J OU R N A L