It’s never the tip of the iceberg…

Last month, CERN hosted a meeting of the European Ombuds and Mediator group, which brought together some 25 Ombuds from both the public and private sectors in Europe. It was an excellent opportunity for members of the network to connect with each other and share some of their processes and practice.

It seems equally an excellent opportunity for me to remind my CERN colleagues of the Ombud role, which was established seven years ago with the aim of providing an informal conflict resolution resource for members of personnel and any other person working at or on behalf of the Organization. The function represents a commitment by CERN, and its Management, to support the well-being of all its collaborators and to promote a respectful workplace environment. Visitors to the Ombud Office will find a “safe place to tell their story”, get another perspective and obtain support in identifying options and working out strategies by which to manage the interpersonal issues with which they are confronted.

The principles by which the Ombud works are in line with the Code of Ethics of the International Ombudsman Association (IOA), and provide a common set of professional ethical principles to which they adhere in their organisational practice. The four basic principles underlying the function are confidentiality, impartiality or neutrality, informality and independence. Access to the Ombud is on an entirely voluntary basis.

The Ombud’s mandate is to provide guidance with regard to the application and interpretation of CERN’s Code of Conduct and to offer confidential assistance through listening, coaching or mediation, as appropriate. Action is taken only with the express agreement of the person(s) concerned.

By relying on the responsibility and autonomy of the parties, the Ombud seeks a fair and ethical solution to the issues raised, and provides a structured framework within which colleagues may share their own perceptions and experiences in search of a mutually acceptable outcome.

The Ombud function at CERN grew out of a growing awareness of the need to promote a respectful organisational culture and support people in resolving issues that may otherwise have a negative impact on their work and well-being. The obvious corollary to this is that we need to create an environment where people feel free to bring their issues to the surface in the sure knowledge that they will be heard and addressed. The Ombud is there to guide and support these initiatives, but in the end, it is up to each of us to engage proactively in creating a climate of trust that allows this to happen, and thus facilitate sustainable solutions together.

As one member of last month’s Ombud meeting remarked, “it is never the tip of the iceberg that causes the damage […] it is what lurks under the surface.” Indeed the image of an organisation is not measured only by the success of its most prominent figures, but also by the way it treats its most vulnerable members.

Sudeshna Datta-Cockerill

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