Today, corporations, government agencies, universities, and organizations are experiencing a number of challenges including Covid-19 pandemic related issues, the “Great Resignation,” a hybrid workforce, bullying, harassment, sexual misconduct concerns, diversity and inclusion issues, and various other social, political, economic, and technological changes. Disruptions such as these create the potential for conflict in the workplace. In addition to these challenges, the workplace brings together people from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, with different perspectives, communication styles, and decision-making approaches, which often lead to misunderstanding. According to a study by CPP Global, the publisher of the Myers-Briggs Assessment, U.S. workers spend more than 2.5 hours per week on interpersonal conflict and miscommunication costing businesses an estimated $359 billion per year!
Addressing workplace concerns, keeping employees engaged, and creating a positive and productive work environment are priorities for human resources professionals and managers. A “psychologically safe” workplace, a term coined by Professor Amy Edmondson at Harvard Business School, is one where employees believe they won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up with questions or concerns or making mistakes. Despite leadership efforts to create a psychologically safe environment, most employees do not report workplace concerns due to fear of retaliation. As a result, important workplace issues are not addressed in a timely manner because they are not known. This in turn affects employee morale, productivity, and teamwork. When employees do elect to file a formal complaint, it is because things have become intolerable, or they believe there is no alternative. At this point, the matter is far more complex, difficult to resolve, and costly.
An important resource that can help organizations address workplace conflicts impartially, informally, and effectively is an Ombuds. Ombuds serve companies, federal agencies, international organizations, hospitals, universities, and a variety of other organizations. Ombuds are trained conflict management professionals who do not replace but rather complement other resources within an organization (e.g., human resources, ethics, legal, employee assistance programs) by providing problem-solving expertise that empowers employees to constructively address conflict early and at a lower level. Ombuds are often the first stop for employees, managers, and executives in seeking guidance and information to address a workplace matter. Ombuds services include but are not limited to:
- Providing a safe and confidential forum to surface concerns;
- Clarifying concerns and communications;
- Identifying underlying issues and interests;
- Exploring options;
- Providing information on an organization’s policies and procedures; and
- Referring employees to appropriate organizational resources.
An Ombuds confidentially works in concert with different services in an organization to help with the resolution of concerns. Ombuds are not advocates for management or employees. They do not give legal advice, and they do not make decisions. The Ombuds helps employees to help themselves. Only when asked will Ombuds act. In this time of accelerated change, Ombuds are trusted neutrals who can assist employees and organizations in addressing workplace conflicts proactively and support a positive and productive work environment.
Ombuds Day serves as an opportunity to raise awareness about the Ombuds profession and the services they offer. If you are interested in learning more about the role of an Ombuds in supporting a respectful and positive work environment, please visit: Ombuds Services – McCammon Group.