From Toxic to Thriving: The Power of Ombuds in the Workplace

Imagine your coworker starts bullying you. Or, your manager promised you a promotion, but it never seems to materialize. Or, you noticed your boss padding expense reports. What would you do? Who would you go to for help?

Well, if you wanted a neutral, non-judgmental, informal, and confidential space to discuss your issues and get support and coaching, you’d want to talk to an organizational Ombuds like me!

The funny word with a big impact

An Ombuds (the term is gender-neutral) is a conflict management expert who works in organizations to provide support/coaching to employees while providing senior leadership with anonymized data on insights and hidden trends for the purpose of maintaining a healthy, inclusive culture. Ombuds work in corporate, academic, non-profit, and government settings. (We’ve been around since the ’60s as the best-kept management secret!)

Typically, ombuds are mediators, facilitators, and trainers (and lawyers like me). Outsourced Ombuds are brought in on a part-time basis, and in-house Ombuds are employees.

Ombuds adhere to the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice set down by the International Ombuds Association. The four pillars of the profession are:

Confidential, Impartial, Informal, Independent (of the company)

How do Ombuds help?

-Act as a ‘thinking partner’ for employees and managers to clarify and resolve issues

-Shares and explains resources, policies, and procedures to employees

-Helps employees to brainstorm options and strategize next steps

-Coaches employees to improve communication and conflict skills

-Safety value for managers and HR professionals to discuss their issues

-Provides learning opportunities on relevant topics for the company

What kinds of issues do Ombuds handle?

All work-related issues, big or small. Like:

✅ Communication issues

✅Perceived unfair treatment/harassment

✅Difficult group dynamics

✅Change management issues

✅Inexperienced/Immature managers

Ombuds do NOT:

❌Receive notice for the organization

❌Break confidentiality (unless harm is imminent)

❌Provide legal/counseling advice

❌Take sides

❌Tell visitors what to do

❌Keep records

❌Get involved with formal decisions like discipline

Sample scenario:

A manager visits the Ombuds to discuss an accommodation request. An employee needs to take mental health leave. The manager thinks the employee is lazy and doesn’t want to grant the leave, even though he knows the company values wellness.

Through thoughtful questioning, the Ombuds helps the manager identify where his beliefs come from and shift his attitude to be more open. The Ombuds also helps the manager plan for the employee’s return and how to re-engage with the team. The outcome is that a valuable employee is retained, the manager grows, and the company lives its values.

The Future of Work

Without a doubt, Ombuds will play a significant role in the future of work as companies try to increase employee engagement, retention, and recruitment by creating/maintaining a healthy work culture based on trust and transparency. My work is developing custom Ombuds programs for small and midsized companies and monitoring the program for its first year to ensure success.

Connect with Dina in Transform Plus!

Guest Author: Dina Lynch Eisenberg, Ombuds/Workplace Incivility Coach, Ombudsology LLC

Author Bio: Dina develops Ombuds programs for small and mid-sized companies that want to increase trust, engagement, and collaboration. Through her empowerment group program, she helps women leaders facing bullying to tell their stories and create a custom escape plan so they can move forward successfully.

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