Establishing an "Ombudsman" Can Accomplish These Goals:
An Ombudsman is appointed by an organization to be available to hear workplace concerns, receive complaints and make recommendations for resolution. The Ombudsman may serve as a counselor, go-between, mediator, informal fact-finder, or upward feedback provider. He/she provides confidential and informal assistance to employees, supervisors and managers in dealing with their work-related concerns.
Ombudsmen are established at enlightened Companies where there is recognition of the need for an informal but "active" approach to addressing individual concerns while at the same time enhancing Company interests. Ombudsmen are at corporations like Pratt & Whitney, McKinsey & Company, Halliburton Company, Eastman Kodak, American Express Company, BMW, Coca Cola and Shell Oil Company.
Benefits of having an Ombudsman:
Avoid Harmful Litigation
There are numerous concerns employees have at the work place which may include personality conflicts, feelings of favoritism, "unfair" evaluations, sexual harassment and/or discrimination, abusive treatment, work or shift assignments and special needs for time-off. Most importantly, many employees or managers whose concerns are not being heard repackage them into legally cognizable causes of action which end up in court before juries, which have frequently awarded punitive damages in these kinds of cases.
Studies of productivity show that when an employee feels his/her organization cares, he/she develops a greater sense of responsibility towards work and an identity with and dedication to the Company. Addressing employee problems eliminates issues that get in the way of employees' communicating and working together. The attitude and mindset of working together for the benefit of the Company is the key to a productive employee or manager. In a large organization, one that depends on individual dedication and effort, it is what helps give one Company a competitive advantage over others.
Retain Key Employees During Restructuring or Downsizing
When a company is restructuring or downsizing, as in an economic downturn, even those not directly impacted may feel insecure and decide to leave. Employees become preoccupied, distracted or disturbed by such changes and morale and dedication may be adversely affected. An Ombudsman can provide reassurance to employees troubled by the changes or bombarded by rumors and can re-enforce the perception that the Company cares and will survive.
Protect Against Sex Harrassment/Discrimination Claims
Sexual harassment and discrimination complaints have resulted in embarrassment, harm to reputation and substantial liability as a result of jury verdicts against Companies. The Ombudsman is a self-policing internal early warning system against such threats.
Current Alternatives for Employee Complaints
Why do employees not simply take their problems to supervisors or the human resources department? The reality is that employees and especially supervisors and managers are very concerned about appearing to be unable to handle their problems. Also, from the employee's point of view, managers are generally not seen as being either confidential or independent. In addition, there are numerous issues, disputes and controversies for which the human resources department can find it useful for a knowledgeable, internal neutral person to identify inappropriate conduct or to obtain timely resolution to problematic disputes. An Ombudsman is a buffer to whom employees can turn to explain alternative options and processes.
Relation to Corporate Interests
Most importantly, the Ombudsman has as his/her goal the protection of the Company as an institution, and uses his/her knowledge of the Company and the trust of its constituents to protect those interests. The Ombudsman provides feedback to the Company and may be called upon to handle sensitive issues involving upper management