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Always THINK – SPEAK and ACT Positive

Karoly Soos, John Villiers, Helen Conefrey

Article also includes:

  • Information on the mandatory anti-harassment training: “Recognising and Addressing Harassment at work”

  • Harassment: basic principles


”Always think, speak and act positive” - RESPECT

The best way to avoid inappropriate behaviour and harassment is to show MORE RESPECT, more patience - line managers and peers should engage with more empathy and trust, and express appreciation more frequently.


Another golden rule is in cases of different opinions: “ATTACK THE SUBJECT NOT THE PERSON”.


It is paramount to improve the culture of the organisation. A culture of respect enables staff to feel comfortable in the workplace. The obligatory training managers is critical. Zero-tolerance for any inapproriate behaviour or harassment should be not just written in policy papers but implemented in all delegations.


Nowadays our life and work is much faster, more complex and demanding, thus there is far more stress in the workplace. Information and communication overload in the digital age is evident. The traditional ways in which staff in EU Delegations were used to communicating and operating are changing fast – this can be positive or negative depending on how we handle the transition. Staff are now more likely than ever to work in a hybrid manner, to communicate digitally and virtually without necessarily picking up the phone or going to speak with a colleague in person to discuss priority issues.


One way of creating more empathy and understanding among colleagues is to promote and value social teambuilding and social events. The budget for EU DEL networking, teambuilding and social events for EU DEL staff has however been drastically reduced year-on year and this does not help staff to build a more supportive and respectful culture. USHU believes it is smart to ensure networking and collective events for EU DEL staff in order to promote awareness and “person to person” contacts. We need to value EQ as much as IQ to ensure an enabling and performant workplace.


Extract from the Practical Guide to Staff Ethics and Conduct – “Behaviour at work”


Colleagues should be TREATED with RESPECT and IMPARTIALITY, regardless of their position. In a multi-cultural workplace, MUTUAL RESPECT and TOLERANCE of differences are essential ingredients of any good working relationship. This also involves:


  • Teamwork – working together to achieve common goals

  • Polite and clear communication – engaging colleagues by showing RESPECT and encouraging efficiency through clarity of instructions

  • Conflict resolution  – finding workable solutions through discussion and better mutual understanding

  • Zero tolerance – of any form of psychological and sexual harassment

USHU is committed to pursuing a zero-tolerance approach and to preventing harassment

Over the next few weeks, USHU will put the spotlight on harassment prevention and explore how to tackle this issues in the EU DEL environment where staff are often working under considerable pressure in very unpredictable contexts and with a wide range of staff categories. As the former EEAS Mediator, stated: “The only fair answer to assess the situation is that harassment is too frequent. For any institution that declares zero tolerance - even one case is too much".


USHU believes we must do more to prevent harassment. USHU fully supports the EEAS Mediators recommendations to “Create a respectful work culture; coherent, an explicitly people-centred work culture where inappropriate behaviour is not tolerated. A culture that excepts diversity.”


USHU congratulates the EEAS on the new anti-harassment policy and its policy of zero tolerance. Management must make every effort to implement the zero tolerance policy and training and communication are key aspects.


The NEW Policy: “PEOPLE FIRST” is part of the measures set out in the HR strategy including the following documents: (1) DECISION on the prevention of and fight against psychological and sexual harassment (2) GUIDE on Respectful working environment (3) ACTION PLAN for the prevention of psychological and sexual harassment in the workplace.


There is also an EEAS mandatory training, which unfortunately still many colleagues at the delegation have not completed. USHU urges management in EU Delegations especially Heads of Delegations to actively follow up and encourage all staff members to complete this training.


Extract from the mandatory training: Recognising and Addressing Harassment at work

Stefano Sannino, Secretary-General explains: "It is our responsibility to RESPECT and protect the dignity of our colleagues, to REFLECT on situations and be able to recognise harassment, be it addressed to us or should we witness it, and REACT by taking action, including using one of the support structures in place." As expressed in the EEAS Mission Statement: “We strive to be a dynamic, efficient and inclusive service. Valuing talent and the professional excellence of our staff, we are committed to building an organisation where gender equality and respect for diversity are core values. We work to create a common European diplomatic culture".


To live by these words, there is no place in the EEAS for any form of psychological or sexual harassment.


The existence of harassment undermines the image of the EEAS as an employer that stands up for equality, diversity and inclusion.

Harassment is not tolerable. Harassment may cause severe psychological harm and have a long-term impact on mental health and professional capacity.


We want to make sure that all EEAS staff enjoys a healthy workplace, and that a zero tolerance policy towards harassment is upheld. RESPECT builds an inclusive, fair and empowering workplace. Harassment on the other hand can tear that all down by breeding hostility, exclusivity, prejudice and inequality. Harassment is the build-up of improper actions which are either direct or indirect but must have the effect of undermining the personality, dignity or physical or psychological integrity of a person.


The following list aims at painting a general picture of what direct actions might be. It is in no way an exhaustive list, as other behaviours could also be included here as constituting direct actions:


  • Offensive or degrading comments or jokes, especially in public, including stereotypical comments about gender, ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, religion, age, disability… 

  • Making overly critical remarks, especially in front of others; 

  • Threatening to physically hurt someone, to damage someone’s career or reputation;

  • Physically threatening someone: touching/grabbing someone in any way that is not consensual, coming up too close to someone’s face, shaking fists angrily, throwing objects, …;

  • Making threatening, inappropriate or rude comments; 

  • Shouting at someone;

  • Damaging property, tampering with someone’s desk or office, etc. 

  • The following list aims at painting a general picture of what indirect actions might be. It is in no way exhaustive list as other behaviours could also be included here as constituting indirect actions:

  • Isolating, excluding, rejecting, ignoring someone (giving the 'silent treatment');

  • Gossiping (spreading private information or fake rumours behind someone's back);

  • Impairing colleagues’ social relations;

  • Using sarcasm, irony (use of words that are the opposite of what you mean), innuendo (seemingly ordinary words that actually have a sexual connotation) about a specific person;

  • Being passive-aggressive (saying very hurtful or aggressive words in a very relaxed/neutral way);

  • Gaslighting (making someone seem or feel unstable, irrational and not credible, and think that no one else will believe them);

  • Setting up someone for failure (giving incomplete, incorrect or overwhelming information to make sure someone fails at completing a task).


Harassment basic principles

Violence and harassment are attacks on personal dignity, the right to equal and non-discriminatory treatment and often a person’s health. Staff affected by it feel insecure about their work; they are more frequently absent and may even be unable to work, with consequent impacts on efficiency.

Psychological harassment

“Psychological harassment means any improper conduct that takes place over a period, is repetitive or systematic and involves physical behaviour, spoken or written language, gestures or other acts that are intentional and that may undermine the personality, dignity or physical or psychological integrity of any person.”


  • Offensive or degrading comments, bullying, threatening remarks

  • Insults relating to someone’s personal or professional competence

  • Belittling someone’s contributions and achievements

  • Isolating, rejecting or humiliating someone

  • Setting unrealistic working objectives or not giving someone any work

  •        Isolated incidents and occasional behaviour, do not, strictly speaking, constitute harassment

Sexual harassment

“Sexual harassment means conduct relating to sex which is unwanted by the person to whom it is directed and which has the purpose or effect of offending that person or creating an intimidating, hostile, offensive or disturbing environment. Sexual harassment shall be treated as discrimination based on gender.”


  • Promise of rewards in return for sexual favours

  • Repeated and exaggerated compliments on the appearance of a work colleague

  • Physical contact, rubbing against someone, pinching, deliberate unwanted kisses

  • Use of pornographic material

  • Use of crude and obscene language and gestures

  • One single incident related to sex can constitute sexual harassment if unwanted by the person to whom the conduct is directed

What should you do in case of harassment?

  • If a certain type of conduct is felt to be inappropriate or embarrassing, make this clear

  • React immediately and set limits politely but firmly

  • Speak to a superior or consult human resources

  • If unwanted behaviour continues, start keeping a written record of all incidents and contact a Confidential Counsellor and/or the mediator.

  • Contact USHU if you need any advice and support and we will aim to point you in the right direction!

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