Strengthening workforce resilience during a pandemic

The Transition Center’s Division Director for Training Laura Smallwood leads a “Brain Fitness for Resilience” webinar with her co-worker Dursley, April 23. Photo courtesy of Laura Smallwood
The Transition Center’s Division Director for Training Laura Smallwood leads a “Brain Fitness for Resilience” webinar with her co-worker Dursley, April 23. Photo courtesy of Laura Smallwood

By Sarah Genton

Demand for resilience services from the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) is greater than ever as thousands of diplomats return stateside and thousands more work from home anxiously waiting out the coronavirus global pandemic. In response, the team at FSI’s Center of Excellence in Foreign Affairs Resilience (CEFAR), led by director Peter Redmond, quickly focused on developing and distributing resilience resources to the wider foreign affairs community. The team is also expanding offerings of on-demand resilience training and webinars to support the foreign affairs workforce at home and abroad.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted mission operations worldwide, with Mission China as the first to confront the new silent enemy. A deluge of calls and emails bombarded the CEFAR team early as quarantines, and later evacuations, became a reality. As the crisis grew, the need for resilience training and resources moved front and center as post leadership around the world sought strategies to care for their communities. 

“Maintaining and strengthening resilience habits and practices is even more important in times of stress and uncertainty,” said Redmond. “A resilient workforce is happier and more productive.”

Within the first month of the crisis, CEFAR began working with more than 30 overseas missions, consulates, and domestic offices to share resilience tools and strategies to help individuals and teams manage this new source of stress, anxiety, and uncertainty. CEFAR also ramped up the publication of resilience strategy articles available on the Department of State’s website. CEFAR also launched a resilience webinar series in April that highlights different resilience tools, techniques, and resources. The webinar series provides a forum for participants to share their stories and insights.

“We are finding that the ‘Better Me’ becomes a ‘Better We,’” says CEFAR resilience trainer Eric Cipriano. “As we collectively deal with uncertainty, high stress, and crisis, we are finding incredible and powerful examples of personal, team, family, and community resilience in the State Department. It is very inspiring.”

The under secretary of state for management, the director general, Bureau of Medical Services, the Bureau of Global Talent Management’s Family Liaison Office, and chiefs of mission are all playing critical roles in supporting the resilience of hardworking diplomats and staff overseas and domestically. The Office of Employee Consultation Service is providing free and confidential counseling resources for those in need.  

“Together,” Redmond explained, “we are helping strengthen our workforce, and the foreign affairs family as a whole, as they bounce back stronger from stress and adversity.”  

The CEFAR team continues to explore innovative ways to support the global workforce, and they invite your ideas and suggestions by contacting [email protected]. The latest resilience articles can be found by visiting FSI’s resources on the Department’s resilience website, tips on FSI’s Twitter and LinkedIn pages, or additional information can be found on the CEFAR website

Sarah Genton is the division director of the Overseas Briefing Center in the Transition Center at the Foreign Service Institute.