Impact of Ombuds Office Highlighted

 

The NC State Faculty Ombuds Office was profiled in a recent article jointly published by The Journal of the California Caucus of College and University Ombuds and the Journal of the International Ombudsman Association -“Ombuds and Conflict Resolution Specialists: Navigating Workplace Challenges in Higher Education.”  The article explores various ombuds practices and impacts on an organization based on research conducted by Nova Southeast faculty member Neil H. Katz and two of his graduate students Katherine J. Sosa and Linda N. Kovack.

The researchers identified three primary functions of an ombuds and/or conflict resolution office including (1) addressing constituent issues, (2) educational outreach, and (3) system review. In each area the ombuds sought to positively impact both the individual and the institution by providing ombuds services within a framework of independence, confidentiality, informality, and impartiality.

Overall the impacts were seen as positive and the researchers conclude that institutions that support ombuds and/or conflict resolution programs “are implementing ‘best practices.'”  It’s certainly the goal of the NC State Faculty & Staff Ombuds office to support constructive engagement around conflicts or issues of concern. And, doing so, may help all utilize best practices and promote a vibrant workplace.

 

 

What Happens When you Visit the NC State Faculty & Staff Ombuds Office?

 

How does the NC State Faculty & Staff Ombuds office do its work? I often get asked – “What happens when someone comes to the office?”  Well – let’s pull back the curtain!

Let’s start with scheduling. People can call, email or sometimes meet the ombuds in person – (note that email is not a confidential form of communication) and based on case data, Faculty initial contact is 51% email, 45% phone, and 4% in-person, while for Staff, contact is 28% email, 63% phone, and 9% in-person.  However the contact, we set up a time that works and I usually host people at the Faculty & Staff Ombuds office that is located just off campus – 112 Cox Ave., Ste. 212 & 213 with parking available. I’ve also met people at other on and off campus locations.

When the meeting time arrives and the location is my office, there is a knock on the door and I greet folks at the entry. We enter and sit at a small round table. I offer coffee or tea or water and have chocolate strategically placed on the table!  I introduce myself and explain the role of an ombuds – to help individuals, groups, and the university – solve issues / concerns while adhering to four core principles of ombuds practice – independence, confidentiality, informality, and impartiality.  Our office uses an Ombuds Role Disclosure  form to share and review this information.

Then I usually invite people to introduce themselves, their role at the university, as well as any other information they wish to share. Usually this also includes their concerns and why they’ve contacted the office. Once issues / concerns are shared we then clarify aspects as needed and I seek to understand what’s most important to the person (the interests behind the presented situation) and what they are seeking as an outcome. Then I work with the person to explore options.

We review as many different options as we can think of together and I share information about existing University resources that might be able to assist. Once options are noted, these are reviewed with the person to try to match options to the underlying interests and outcomes noted earlier in the discussion. This is where I particularly remind people that while the ombuds supports people, I don’t take a “side” in an issue or serve as an advocate for the person over another person or the university – I hold the middle.

At the conclusion of the conversation, there are usually several options to consider and even try out going forward. There are also times when the ombuds may take on an active role to help facilitate a conversation or may make an inquiry to get additional information. Sometimes the one meeting completes the ombuds service while other situations call for additional meetings and follow up conversations.

That essentially outlines what happens in a visit to my office. I don’t keep records with identifiable information yet I do track types of issues / concerns and aggregate data to spot trends. And, when appropriate, I’ll reach out to various levels across the university and share trends and/or surface issues while protecting the confidentiality of the source.  I only share this type of feedback with the permission of the person or if the issue can be shared in a manner that does not disclose the source (and I always talk to the person as to both whether and how this might work).

Hopefully this description demystifies a visit to the NC State Faculty & Staff Ombuds Office and let me know if I can help you.

Best wishes for the holiday season.