“Nothing will change” is one of the complaints often heard in the Ombud’s Office. However, four years after taking on the role of the CERN Ombud and a few days before retiring, I would like to assert that things do change, albeit sometimes very slowly, and that, by addressing issues constructively, we can all influence each other to ultimately bring about the changes that we seek in our environment.
Although the Ombud function was established only in 2011 at CERN, it had first been proposed seven years prior to that in a 2003 presentation to the Management on equal opportunities, as well as in subsequent reports, signalling interpersonal communication issues that would benefit from an informal conflict resolution process such as this. That did indeed take some time, but it was time well spent understanding what such a function could provide and defining the specific role and terms of reference that would correspond to CERN’s needs.
The creation of the Ombud function represents a commitment by CERN, and its Management, to the well-being of all its contributors and to the promotion of a respectful workplace environment. In everyday terms, this implies the willingness to support an environment in which interpersonal conflicts are allowed to surface with a view to managing them constructively, and thereby, over time, fostering a workplace culture of ongoing dialogue and trust.
Things have indeed changed in the seven years since it was established, as more and more people begin to have recourse to the Ombud’s Office. Since I took on the role in 2014, there have been on average around 100 visitors a year, showing a need on the part of our colleagues to deal with the difficulties they encounter and a willingness to engage in bringing about change. Not all outcomes can be to the full satisfaction of the people concerned, but most visitors express their appreciation of a safe place in which they can talk openly, and for the insights and support they obtain, helping them to manage the situations they face and move on.
No organisation can be without conflict – it is how we look at conflict that counts.
As the work of the Ombud’s Office gets to be better known, whether through direct interventions, Ombud’s Corner articles in the bulletin, or Ombud Reports and presentations, our attitude towards conflict will also evolve towards a different mindset where both the Management and other staff are more ready to address issues early, constructively and as a means to achieve even greater collaboration and trust.
Indeed, bringing problems to the surface and facing them together will sow the seeds for a conflict-competent culture that is open to questioning old habits and ensuring that, when necessary, things do indeed change.
Facing issues and engaging in a change process is particularly pertinent to me today as I find myself on the brink of retirement. I am going to miss CERN and everything it represents. I would like to thank all of you, readers of my articles, visitors to the Ombud’s Office, the Management, colleagues and friends for having entrusted me with so many culture-change projects over the years, culminating in this role of Ombud, all of which I hope to have accomplished with care, concern and competence. Khalil Gibran’s Prophet says that “work is love made visible” – indeed I am grateful for so many opportunities over the last 41 years to express my love for CERN and the wonderful CERN community, and I wish you continued success and well-being in the years to come.
Sudeshna Datta Cockerill