Work organizations throughout the world gather together people that spend long hours together sharing the responsibilities of producing the output of the enterprise. These groups are homogeneous generally only on the dimension that their skills contribute in some way to the overall mission of the organization. On most other attributes they exhibit large variation.
Many work organizations are hierarchies of responsibilities, with supervisors placed in nested levels of authority. The levels generally define status and power relations within the organization. All power can be abused when given to those weak in values of good will toward others.
Work organizations also bring together people with different training, different ways of thinking. They often lack a sharing of assumptions. They may use different terminology. Groups of mixed skills sometimes struggle to collaborate on a project that needs both diverse viewpoints but common purpose.
Work organizations consist of people that are diverse in age and life experiences. This is especially true for universities, in which older faculty and staff work with younger students. They bring different cultures to work.
All these diverse backgrounds, cultures, age cohorts, ways of thinking, life experiences, and different assumptions form quite a stew in work organizations. It is to be expected that interpersonal difficulties arise.
This mélange of staff is more relevant these days because of the shared impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. All our lives have been disrupted. Lockdowns and teleworking has prevented the 1-1 casual conversations that appeared to be useful glue for community-building in work organizations. Watching the news, we see more people on edge, just a single event away from losing their temper. Work organizations are not immune to interpersonal conflict spurred by the disrupting effects of life in a pandemic.
One asset that organizations use to help in interpersonal relations is an ombuds. An ombuds is a confidential, informal, impartial, independent role within the university. Their job is to help with those involved in interpersonal difficulties to navigate them to a better state. Sometimes this involves educating the staff member about the various options that are available to them, as part of employee services. Sometimes it involves offering tips on how to handle communication problems with co-workers or supervisors. Sometimes the ombuds brings the conflicting parties together to assist in finding a solution.
The Georgetown Main and Med campuses are served by faculty and student ombuds. Our ombuds are trained professionals, bound by a code of ethics of the International Ombuds Association. Their interactions with Georgetown community members are confidential. The only exception is when there is imminent risk of harm to one of the parties. Our ombuds are neutral, impartial, and remain unaligned with any of the parties in their consultations. They cannot part of any adjudicative or administrative action. They are awaiting our calls for their assistance, which they provide freely to those who call on them.
In essence, they are a resource for all of us to seek a reaction to our own circumstances that we find undesirable. For the university itself, when ombuds experience repeated issues arise in their work, a policy gap or systemic problems, they can alert those in position to correct those systemic problems. In that sense, they also help to improve the university.
GUMC and main campus ombuds:
Bassem Haddad, GUMC faculty ombuds
Stacey Kaltman, GUMC student ombuds
Catherine Langlois, main campus faculty ombuds
Daniela Brancaforte, main campus student ombuds
We are fortunate to have these colleagues serving this role.