Table of Contents Table of Contents
Previous Page  54 / 84 Next Page
Basic version Information
Show Menu
Previous Page 54 / 84 Next Page
Page Background

Bureaucracies aren’t known

for compassion, flexibility

or a commitment to do

everything within reason to

help their employees thrive.

This is often the case even

when some of the decision-

makers are caring individu-

als who want to help—the

bureaucracy just wears

them down and makes it so

hard to effect change that

they eventually stop trying.

(Don’t worry, I’m not there


This tendency can be

exacerbated in an organiza-

tion like the Foreign Service,

which is characterized by

three trends: it is highly

competitive to enter, it is

consistently ranked one of

the best places to work and

attrition remains low.

Under these conditions,

managers can easily lull

themselves into compla-

cency and inertia, based

on the assumption that

the career is so prized and

employees love their jobs

so much that they will never

leave, no matter how they

are treated or how many

personal sacrifices they

must make.

To some extent that may

be true—otherwise, attrition

would be higher. But what

about the unseen statistic,

the number of employees

who remain but become less

engaged, less satisfied and

more resentful?

We all know at least one

colleague (or perhaps we

The Human Touch



Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA State VP.


| (202) 647-8160

are that colleague) who has

struggled so much with the

bureaucracy that, even when

things are resolved favor-

ably, they continue to expe-

rience a bitter aftertaste.

The employee who faces

pressure from her office

to return to work too soon

after having a baby; the

tandem couple who has to

do one tour after another

apart; the parent of a child

with special needs who

dreads bidding on over-

seas posts because of the

bureaucratic hoops; the

single parent who is in an

essential position at a post

that goes on drawdown; the

LGBT employee who wants

to serve in a country where

his or her spouse would

not be officially recognized;

the single employee try-

ing to navigate eldercare;

the employee whose EFM

spouse has been unable

to find meaningful work

for multiple tours—these

individuals are assets into

which the Foreign Service

has invested a great deal of

training and money.

It is heartbreaking to

see and hear them agonize

over how much more they

can take, and whether it

is worth it to stay with an

organization that does not

appear to value them. Part

of the culture shift toward

humanizing our bureaucracy

involves leaders and manag-

ers recognizing our human

needs outside of work in a

way that makes us stronger

and more engaged on the


I’ve seen the department

do a wonderful job with

certain individual cases.

Unfortunately, not every-

body knows how to navigate

the system to achieve those

kinds of results, nor should

they have to.

I’d like to see a Foreign

Service where the leader-

ship acknowledges that

our people are our best

asset and that disengaged,

distracted, cynical employ-

ees will contribute far less.

From the top, there needs to

be clear instructions to “the

bureaucracy” to work with

people and find compas-

sionate solutions, not to

point reflexively to the FAM

and say something isn’t pos-

sible, end of story.

While some regulations

are government wide and

cannot be changed unilat-

erally by the State Depart-

ment, others are eligible for

negotiation and revision,

should policymakers deem

the issue sufficiently impor-


In some cases, revision

isn’t necessary; a more flex-

ible interpretation would do

the trick. Leaders can and

should empower manag-

ers to take the most human

interpretation of the rules,

while still upholding the let-

ter and spirit.

It’s not enough, however,

for policymakers to issue

such declarations and then

return to their daily tasks,

assuming that everything

will now change.

If they want the imple-

menting offices to take

action, they need to remain

involved, send represen-

tatives to working group

meetings, emphasize the

need for creative solutions

and outside-the-box think-

ing, ask for progress reports,

engage when working-level

employees cannot find a

solution and constantly

remind managers both here

and abroad that the Foreign

Service cannot achieve its

important work without

the full, loyal support of its


We need to invest as

much time into helping our

employees thrive person-

ally as we do to ensure they

thrive professionally.

What a wonderful Foreign

Service that would be.


Leaders can and should empower

managers to take the most human

interpretation of the rules, while

still upholding the letter and spirit.