Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Reader Question on Judging Post Morale

Since I mentioned Post Morale as one of our bidding criteria, one reader asked "how do you know a post is a low morale post?"

Morale is a constantly changing thing. We never really understood how much morale matters at a Post... until we changed Posts. Chennai had some challenges, and the community was pretty much split into people who loved it and people who hated it. However, even the people who hated it tended to be in pretty good spirits.

Perhaps it was the 'hardship,' perhaps it was the social isolation caused by living in a much different culture, but either way, people did things together. Parties pulled big numbers of attendees... Even a three year old's birthday party would attract singles from Post who just wanted to hang out with their friends. There was a fantastic shared common space in the pool where people could randomly meet up with others. Even the places we (Consulate staff) tended to go were unique enough that it wasn't uncommon to sit next to someone from work at a restaurant. That being said... I mostly remember my second year in Chennai... it literally changed year to year.

So... what factors into morale? In no particular order:

  • The Management Team - They control so much, and a little consideration can go a long way to starting off people's tours on the right foot.
  • Location Location Location - If your housing pool is geographically gigantic, it's hard to SEE others from the community outside of work.
  • Hardship - 'Harder' posts have better communities, period. Maybe there are exceptions, but it is a generally accepted fact. Think about it, the harder the place, the more you bond with your colleagues over the "us vs them" nature of surviving in a stressful environment.
  • Expectations - This is a tough one. People 'expected' Buenos Aires to be the 'Paris of South America.' Maybe it is, if you stress the South America, rather than the Paris (disclaimer, I've never lived in Paris). Buenos Aires was a nice place, but people moved there with outrageous expectations of 'dream posts.' Every post has problems. Conversely, my second year in Chennai saw a steep change over of second tour officers, fresh out of 'luxury' posts that were very upset with their second assignment. Who replaced them? First tour officers who were ecstatic just to be overseas. Talk about a change in mindset.
  • Location Location Location (again) - Buenos Aires had an odd dichotomy; GENERALLY speaking, singles and couples loved it (it was a nice city), and families did not. Young kids (like mine) struggled to find friends (locals spoke Spanish, and the housing pool was too spread out to make Embassy friends) or had to struggle with long commutes (either to school or work).

How do you know the morale at Post? Here's my easy two-step process for determining Post morale:
  1. Read the Personal Post Insights (from the Overseas Briefing Center) and the Real Post Reports (from talesmag). Sometimes people flat-out describe morale (I saw that in a review of Phnom Penh). Even if they don't... you can tell. Happy people focus on positives, miserable people focus on negatives.
  2. Ask. I literally just asked when I e-mailed my predecessors in the positions I was bidding on. Literally every one responded with candor. Again, happy people love to talk about how great a place is, miserable people are itching for an excuse to complain. Either way, you win.
Does it matter? I struggle with this question. As someone who openly stated morale to be a big factor of my bidding, I ended up going to a place that isn't really known (in the last few years at least) for it's morale. End of the day, I'll probably be happy wherever I go, and there were more important considerations. Your experience may vary.

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