Management

Organizational Ombudsman

A common issue that can arise within an organization is when an employee has an issue but has reason to think raising this issue with management could hurt their career.  Or the issue could be with a member of management and the employee feels that if they report the issue it will be ignored due to a belief that management takes care of their own, or that they will face retribution from other members of management.

I do understand that in cases like this employees should go to their human resources department and report the issue.  The issue with this is that most employees believe that outside of extremely egregious situations the human resources department will side with the employer over the employee.  Most employees believe that human resources departments protect the company first and the employee second.

What is needed is a neutral third party, someone to mediate issues who is not beholden to employees or management.

The Ombudsman

The ombudsman is a high-ranking member of an organization that is not part of the management team and operates independently of the management team.  They should be available to all employees, and be empowered to work with management, employees, and Human Resources.  As stated by the International Ombudsman Association having an ombudsman in your organization can have the following benefits:

  • Build and improve workplace culture
  • Support employees and other stakeholders 
  • Provide an informal and confidential space to identify and address issues 
  • Support DEIB efforts including racial and social injustice 
  • Support those impacted by harassment 
  • Prevent bias and harassment issues from escalating 
  • Reduce complaint investigation time
  • Reduce litigation costs 
  • Reduce employment litigation insurance premiums.  
  • Improve governance 
  • Address interpersonal and group conflict 
  • Uncover and address systemic issues to create healthier organizations, and 
  • A myriad of other concerns

An ombudsman can be viewed by employees as a neutral third party they can trust to make the best decision.  Of course, the best decision may favor the company but it should be part of every ombudsman to make the person issuing the complaint aware of this at the time that they make the complaint.

Ethical concerns

Employees must trust the ombudsman to ensure that they are being used properly.  Care must be taken to ensure that the independence of the ombudsman is never in question.  Every ombudsman should be required to provide anonymized data to all employees, and resolutions put forward by the ombudsman, enacted or not, should be made available to all employees if anonymization is possible, or to the affected parties if anonymizing is not possible.

At no point should employees or management have access to the ombudsman’s data, in the case of an ombudsman leaving an organization their data should be taken over by another ombudsman from within the organization if possible.  It is for this reason that there should be ombudsmen at multiple levels within an organization.

Communicate the Ombudsman’s Role

To ensure the ombudsman’s effectiveness, it is important to communicate their role and responsibilities to all employees. This can be achieved through organization-wide communication channels, such as email, newsletters, and company meetings.

It is also important to ensure that the ombudsman is accessible to everyone, regardless of their position in the organization. This can be achieved by providing multiple channels for employees to contact the ombudsman, such as phone, email, and in-person meetings.

Evaluate the Ombudsman’s Effectiveness

Regularly evaluating the ombudsman’s effectiveness is essential to ensure that they are meeting the organization’s needs. This includes monitoring the number and types of complaints received, the time taken to resolve disputes, and the overall satisfaction of employees and management.

If the ombudsman’s role is not meeting the organization’s needs, adjustments can be made to the policies, procedures, or the ombudsman’s role itself.

Conclusion

Implementing an ombudsman in a company can be an effective tool for resolving disputes and promoting fairness. However, it is essential to define the role and responsibilities of the ombudsman, identify the right candidate, establish policies and procedures, communicate the ombudsman’s role, and evaluate their effectiveness regularly. By following these steps, an organization can implement an effective ombudsman program that benefits everyone involved.

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