Leadership Corner

All Forest Service work begins with safe, harassment free workplace

November 9th, 2018 at 1:15PM

Photo: head shot of woman in Forest Service uniform. Behind her are the American and Forest Service flags.
Leslie Weldon, Senior Executive for Work Environment and Performance, USDA Forest Service

Earlier this week, I attended the annual Length of Service Awards ceremony here in the Washington Office. The ceremony is important and unifying, an occasion to honor our employees for their dedication to caring for the land and serving people. We honored Ms. Iva Sanders for dedicating 50 years of her life to public service! What an inspiration to us all!

It was yet another reminder that our greatest asset at the Forest Service is our own employees. Everything we do—every part of our mission—depends on having a workplace where every one of us is able to thrive in our work, free from harassment and safe from harm. In her remarks at our Length of Service ceremony, Chief Christiansen struck the same theme, and I deeply share her commitment to service, interdependence, diversity, and safety in delivering our conservation mission. This is what attracted me to my new job as Senior Executive for Work Environment and Performance.

The Work Environment and Performance Office is new. In my role as its senior executive, I will continue to serve on the Executive Leadership Team after almost 7 years as Deputy Chief for the National Forest System. Why have a stand-alone office for workplace issues with representation on the ELT? Because creating a work environment that is safe, respectful, and inclusive, where everyone feels welcome and valued for their work, is the basis for everything else we do. Without a safe and respectful work environment, we simply cannot fulfill our conservation mission.

The Work Environment and Performance Office will develop and support programs and activities that help all of us create the positive and productive work environment everyone deserves. How will this happen? With the full understanding that every one of us has a choice to make in our work relationships: we can either contribute to or detract from the work environment we desire. For me personally, this means two things: (1) activating engagement and learning among all of us; and (2) discovering a path to long-term success in our very complex organization, given our multifaceted mission.

However, we are fortunate to have our Forest Service values (conservation, service, interdependence, diversity, and safety) and our Code and Commitments to help us on this journey. By living our values and our Code and Commitments, we will create a values-based, purpose-driven, and relationship-focused organization capable of making greater contributions to our Nation in caring for the land and serving people than ever before. I am constantly reminded that many of you are actively living our values and our Code and Commitments and are leading the way—it’s truly humbling and gratifying to see!  

So what is our new office doing? We are reviewing lots of data and analyses, including information from the Listen and Learn and Stand Up For Each Other sessions. I was struck in particular by messages conveyed by our Employee Advisory Group:

  • Employees want to talk about building trust in their senior leaders.
  • To build employee trust, leaders need to communicate with more empathy rather than just focusing on training and policy.
  • Leaders should show up with more humility, honesty, and humanity.
  • Leaders should help new employees acquire emotional and self-management skills.

We are working in tandem with a team that has been working with employees from across the Forest Service on a booklet called “This Is Who We Are.” The booklet, which you will soon receive, contains information you can use in helping our partners and the people we serve understand what we do at the Forest Service and who we are.

Our office will soon be joined by three Civil Rights staffs—the Conflict Management and Prevention Center, the National Special Emphasis Program, and the Mindfulness Program. These staffs already deal with work environment and performance issues, and their expertise and capacity will add immeasurably to our own ability to succeed.

The Human Resources, Training and Employee Development unit will also be joining our office this year. The unit’s skills and expertise are a natural fit for our office in developing and delivering tools and resources for employee training, mentoring, and coaching. We also expect to stand up a Data and Analytics Unit and a branch for supporting the victims of harassment, potentially based on a model being piloted by an action learning team in the Middle Leader Program.

We have hired a contractor to work with our own researchers in assessing our current work environment. The agencywide climate assessment will gather information about employee experiences and perceptions of positive and negative qualities in the work environment. We also hired another contractor to thoroughly review our antiharassment policy and program and to recommend revisions and develop a national Victim Advocacy Program as well as related training.

We also partnered with the Peace Corps to develop a “train-the-trainer” program for bystander intervention. Over 90 employees will soon deliver this practical, hands-on training across the agency. In partnership with Civil Rights, we also developed a training program for preventing retaliation, focusing on how to process emotional responses when allegations or complaints are made. Training to prevent bullying and being an ally is also in development. We will keep you updated as these resources become available and posted to a new website.

I hope this snapshot gives you an idea of what we’ve been up to—there are many moving pieces. We’re off to a great start and appreciate your patience! I thank you all for what you do for the Forest Service and encourage you to keep doing excellent work and fostering the workplace environment we all need and deserve.