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the DETO dance

“A moment of silence, please/
for those who never get the chance.
They show up to the party/
but they’re never asked to dance.”

It’s funny, this quality that certain songs possess of burrowing into the subconscious and then surfacing on a moment’s notice when their lyrics come in perfect harmony with our lives, as if they had been written for us or about us. Songs of love and loss are the most obvious examples, given the universality of these human experiences, but there are other, more off-beat matches when a song’s lyrics mysteriously fit and the totality of the music expresses one’s emotions much more perfectly than words alone ever could. The song playing on repeat in D’s mind these days is Streetlight Manifesto’s “A Moment of Silence” — a loser anthem that cuts to the core of D’s current job search frustrations despite being written about something else entirely.

In the two months since it became clear that D would not be successful in landing a position in Manila, he has dedicated his efforts to plan B: finding a Washington job that can be performed remotely. Unfortunately, while the State Department does have a provision for this kind of work, referred to as a DETO (domestic employee teleworking overseas), arranging this kind of agreement requires a herculean effort, fortuitous connections, and a minor miracle. D has approached a veritable alphabet soup of bureaus and offices across the Department, but has gotten very little traction to date. Hiring managers who initially enthuse over D’s qualifications and relevant experience grow distant when D brings up the prospects for a DETO — a four-letter word that palpably poisons the atmosphere and arrests conversations more effectively than any expletive.

No, a DETO would not be a good fit for this position, they all invariably say — and in some cases that is understandable. Some portfolios require frequent consultation on sensitive matters or time-sensitive inter-agency coordination that would be difficult to accomplish from across the world. But D has also reached out on plenty of positions where these conditions do not apply. We don’t have the technology to enable remote work in this position, one manager told D — a dubious claim nearly two decades into the twenty-first century. Another gave the head-scratching response that her office had too many vacancies and too much work to consider a DETO — this despite the fact that the incumbent in one of the about-to-be-vacated positions D had hoped to fill is currently teleworking through a DETO arrangement.

Worse still, some offices don’t even seem to be aware that Department policy allows for overseas telework. At the beginning of the bid cycle, HR compiles a list of positions that are listed as DETO-eligible, and the list this summer — across the entire Department and all pay grades — consisted of approximately a dozen positions. More than a handful of the managers D had approached about the possibility of a DETO responded by asking what a DETO is.

The most frustrating aspect of this — apart from the Department’s obvious systemic failure to value its employees enough to accommodate modern-day families with two working spouses — is the utter disconnect between what senior leaders say they want (an agile workforce, investment in technology) and the sad state of affairs in which we find ourselves. Given the sheer number of tandems (somewhere in the 15-20% range by most estimates) this lack of flexibility is simply mind-boggling.

All of this very much leaves D feeling like an unwanted wallflower at a junior high school dance — hence the resonance with the Streetlight Manifesto song. There are only so many times one can have a metaphorical door slammed in one’s face before the cumulative experience of rejection starts to take a toll on one’s self-worth.

The one silver lining to the cloud D has felt gather above him these last few months is the support he has received from the many other tandems he has come across in his heretofore unproductive job search. One common theme he has heard repeated several times is that hiring managers tend to change their minds about DETOs later in the bid cycle. Come spring, when the positions approach their rollover date and most eligible bidders have been assigned elsewhere, managers with looming vacancies sometimes come around to the idea that a telework employee is preferable to the alternative. Some managers unable to find suitable candidates for their jobs must get that wallflower feeling too.

“So tell me: how long do you think you can go before you lose it all?
Before they call your bluff and watch you fall?
I don’t know but I’d like to think I had control/
at some point, but I let it go and lost my soul.
Sit tight but the revolution’s years away.
I’m losing faith and I’m running low on things to say…”

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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. “Your good enough, you’re smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like you.” You’re totally worth it, D! Sending you good DETO vibes! And the kiddos are so cute in your holiday card – they’re growing up so fast! Hope to see y’all this winter, if I can steal some time to get down there!

    December 21, 2018
    • YES! Both to the quote and the possibility of hanging out.

      December 21, 2018

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