Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA

Human resources policy at the FDFA – various articles by CH Media

In recent days, newspapers from the CH Media group have published a number of articles concerning the human resources policy of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA). The articles featured incorrect statements. The FDFA maintains that its human resources policy is appropriate and transparent.

12.01.2021
'Embassy of Switzerland' sign in German, English and Arabic.

The FDFA maintains that its human resources policy is appropriate and transparent. © FDFA

The FDFA would like to clarify the following points in particular:

Diplomats in international organisations

Engaging at multilateral level and increasing Switzerland's presence in international organisations is an essential element of Switzerland's foreign policy, a fact which is also reflected in the Federal Council's Foreign Policy Strategy. In this respect, it is in the FDFA's interest to ensure that Switzerland is well networked multilaterally in terms of personnel and is represented in strategically important bodies and posts.

To this end, deliberate efforts are made to place Swiss diplomats in international organisations in order to protect Switzerland's interests. These posts are attractive and prestigious. The FDFA supports the secondment of Swiss nationals to international organisations and accordingly campaigns, sometimes in collaboration with other departments, to place Swiss nationals in high-ranking positions.

The FDFA also attaches great importance to the representation of women in senior positions. Women now outnumber men in the department's leadership. Various mission posts have been filled by women in recent years.

Transfer of diplomats

The compulsory transfer regime is integral to the employment contracts of members of the diplomatic service. Staff members alternate between postings abroad and in Switzerland. It may be that staff are not always posted to their desired destination. The FDFA must consider the needs of the whole department to ensure optimal staffing at head office and throughout the external network. Read more in the interview with the head of the Directorate for Resources, Tania Cavassini.

To protect the privacy of its staff, the FDFA cannot comment on individual cases. It should be noted, however, that also in the most recent series of transfers, a large number of applications were received for certain posts. The department also sought to and continues to do its best to consider individual preferences regarding staff members' family situation or other needs. If all sides work constructively to find a solution, the results are usually satisfactory.

The FDFA's external network comprises some 170 representations (embassies, permanent missions, consulates general, cooperation offices). There are a total of around 380 diplomats working for Switzerland – at the FDFA in Bern and its external network, and in international organisations.

Eligibility of applicants

To be eligible for leading roles such as head of mission, head of international cooperation or head of post, applicants need to have passed an assessment, in which they must prove that they have the necessary skills to assume a leading management function. The process is similar to the recruitment of top management in other departments and in the private sector. In 2020, the contract to undertake these assessments at the FDFA was again awarded as part of a tender under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.

Furthermore, for several years the FDFA's Human Resources Division has organised hearings for these top management positions (see 'Decision-making' below), at which the candidates must state their motivation and qualification for the post orally before the selection committee.

Between June and October 2020, the FDFA advertised 300 postings, 40 of which were top management positions. Around 100 people applied for the 40 top management jobs, roughly a third of whom had never been in a top management position and had not passed an assessment. The FDFA has many highly competent, experienced candidates. Deciding which candidate to select for which post is not easy. For any given post, there is always more than one candidate with the right profile.

The current system has been in place since 2017. It was introduced under Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter to implement recommendations issued by the Swiss Federal Audit Office (SFAO).

Decision-making

Decision-making powers regarding the allocation of postings are set out in Article 6 of the FDFA Ordinance to the Federal Personnel Ordinance. The allocation of postings among the FDFA's transferable staff is decided by:

  • the Federal Council for heads of mission;
  • the FDFA for other staff in pay categories 32-38, deputy heads of mission and deputies to the state secretaries, federal office directors and secretaries-general; heads of cooperation offices at the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC)
  • the state secretary for chargés d'affaires and the heads of consular representations;
  • the Directorate for Resources for all other staff.

Under Article 5 paragraph 1 letter b of the Organisation Ordinance for the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, the General Secretariat plans, coordinates, monitors and handles the business of the department. For example, the secretary general ensures that the documentation for Federal Council meetings is prepared in the proper manner. In this context, the secretary general is involved in the preparation of proposals for the appointment of new heads of mission addressed to the Federal Council.

The Directorate for Resources (DR), which leads the process and formulates the proposals, organises the candidate hearings. The hearings are standardised.  They are generally conducted by the state secretary. Other participants are: the head of the DR, the FDFA secretary general, where appropriate the director general of the SDC or head of the Consular Directorate and the heads of the competent divisions. The DR submits the proposals to the head of the FDFA. The head of department then decides on the proposal for the attention of the Federal Council.

Changes in the transferable services

The number of departures among transferable staff has fallen in recent years. Number of departures (due to retirement, change of career, resignation or dismissal) from the various categories of transferable positions over the past four years:

Category

2017

2018

2019

2020

International cooperation career path

20

20

12

9

General service personnel, transferable

9

3

7

7

Diplomatic career path

 

7

16

11

12

Consular affairs, operations management and finance career path

19

23

10

12

 

TOTAL

55

62

40

40

The FDFA welcomes and actively promotes permeability between the FDFA, other departments and the private sector. This enables FDFA employees to further their careers and acquire skills and experience which benefit the department as a whole and enhance its capacity to represent Switzerland's interests.

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