Non-Americans working for U.S. State Department subject of book

SUNY Fredonia Communication Professor Bond Benton has written the first book that attempts to answer the question: What’s it like to be a non-American working for an American organization?

It’s an issue of growing importance as American companies and institutions expand abroad, but there’s a largely overlooked group – non-American Foreign Service Nationals employed by the U.S. State Department -for whom it is a crucial issue that needs to be brought to the forefront.

The role of Foreign Service Nationals serving the U.S. State Department at diplomatic posts around the globe has never been more vital to the United States, yet little is known about how these 42,000 non-Americans staff members actually feel about working directly for Americans in their own homelands.

Benton provides insight into the thoughts, feelings and viewpoints of Foreign Service Nationals in “The Challenge of Working for Americans,” published by Palgrave Macmillan.

“These non-American staff members are crucial for building local relationships and keeping Americans informed about the situation on the ground. After incidents like Benghazi, these folks have become really important to our Foreign Service to function,” Benton said. “Unfortunately, no one has ever surveyed these people on how they feel about working for Americans, the culture of the State Department, etc.”

Benton conducted interviews of more than 700 non-American State Department employees over a five-year period that revealed “shocking” findings about their experiences in working in an overtly American environment.

Findings from his research suggest several things. The commitment level of non-American staff declines significantly after each year of State Department employment. Non-Americans experience cultural tension with American organizational structures. There is compromise of State Department operational processes due to tension between non-American staff and American officers. Finally, there appears to be and a statistically significant amount of inappropriate behavior, control and, in some cases, abuse, by American Officers.

Benton, whose doctorate from the University of Vienna, Austria, focused on the influence of culture on organizational meaning, has worked as a trainer and consultant for the State Department for nearly 10 years. Non-American staff was the focus of many of these projects.

“I repeatedly heard the same issues of culture tension and misunderstanding,” he said.

To his surprise, he found that no information existed about the experiences and challenges of being a non-American working for the U.S. government.

Moreover, Benton found there were few resources to assist non-Americans working for an American company or organization.

“With globalization and the rise of multi-national organizations, I saw this as a huge vacant area that needed to be addressed,” he said. “As events like the attack at Benghazi showed, the operational effectiveness of the State Department clearly also deserves some scrutiny.”