Informal conflict resolution with the help of the Ombud: how does it work?

At CERN, every member of the personnel has the right to formally contest an administrative decision by requesting a review or by making an internal appeal. Anyone who feels that they’re a victim of harassment can initiate proceedings with the Harassment Investigation Panel.

Instead of resorting to formal proceedings, however, members of the personnel can seek the Ombud’s assistance to resolve a conflict informally. 

How do you choose between the formal and informal approaches?

In the case of formal proceedings, the plaintiff leaves it to the Organization to resolve the dispute and subsequently impose its decision. If this decision favours one of the two parties, this can give the impression that there’s a “winner” and a “loser”. The relationship between the two parties is at great risk of being seriously and permanently affected. Moreover, formal proceedings can prove long and arduous, and demand considerable resources, from the Organization as well as from both parties. Formal proceedings are governed by strict rules that must be scrupulously observed. Notes are taken throughout the various stages, culminating in a written recommendation. 

Every year, the Human Resources department publishes a report on the appeals that have been lodged and handled and the decisions that have been taken. Of course, the individuals involved remain anonymous. 

When they use the Ombud’s services, members of the personnel try to resolve the conflict “amicably” themselves. The aim is to reach an agreement that benefits both parties. The parties themselves establish the rules of the game, provided that the basic principles of respect, listening and goodwill are observed. This process enables them to quickly find a solution that works for them, using as few resources as possible. Thanks to this joint approach, the colleagues can rebuild, preserve and sometimes even improve their relationship.

The Ombud keeps no written record of the cases handled. Any handwritten notes are destroyed once the conflict is resolved. The Ombud does write an annual report, but this gives only statistics and trends and never mentions specific cases.

Access to formal conflict resolution proceedings plays a key role in protecting members of the personnel from arbitrary and unfair situations and inappropriate behaviour. However, the informal approach has many advantages, because it’s effective while also improving relationships in the long term. 

I therefore encourage you to first try to resolve your dispute informally. If this turns out to be impossible, or if your problem is particularly serious, remember that formal means of protecting yourself are always available to you.

Pierre Gildemyn

If you’d like to comment on any of my articles or suggest a topic that I could write about, please don’t hesitate to e-mail me at Ombuds@cern.ch.

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