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“Exceptionally challenging time for all of us”: Qualitative study of the COVID-19 experiences of partners of diplomatic personnel.

Publication date: 

2 Nov 2023


Brooks, S.K., Patel, D. & Greenberg, N. (2023). “Exceptionally challenging time for all of us”: Qualitative study of the COVID-19 experiences of partners of diplomatic personnel. Plos One, 18, e0293557.


Brooks, S.K., Patel, D. & Greenberg, N.

Publication type: 



Background Although the romantic partners of diplomatic personnel frequently accompany their spouses to overseas postings and face the challenges of having to adjust to new cultures and separation from friends and family, they have rarely been the focus of academic research. This study explores the lived experiences of the partners/spouses of diplomatic personnel from the United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) during the COVID-19 pandemic. Methods Partners of FCDO staff took part in semi-structured interviews about how COVID-19 had affected their lives and their perceptions of the organisation’s response to the pandemic. Thematic analysis was used to analyse the data. Results Eleven partners of FCDO staff took part, who between them had lived in 14 different countries during the pandemic. The analysis identified six key themes: deployment-specific challenges such as travel restrictions, quarantine and evacuation; children; impacts of the pandemic including financial and psychological; perceptions of the organisational response to COVID-19; support and help-seeking; and suggestions for the future. Overall participants reported experiencing a number of challenges, many of which left them feeling powerless and not in control of their own lives. Participants frequently described a lack of clarity around policies and support. Social support appeared to be valuable, but many participants wanted more support from the organisation and from informal networks. Conclusions Diplomatic (and similar) organisations could enhance the wellbeing of the partners of their staff through improved communication and support. Keeping families informed about restrictions, requirements, policies and available help during a crisis, and reaching out to them to offer advice and support, would likely be beneficial. It is important that lessons are learned from the COVID-19 crisis in order for organisations to be able to support their employees and families if another prolonged crisis were to occur.