Ombudsman – What is that?

It is a confidential, informal, independent and neutral resource for employees with a workplace concerns.

The term ‘Ombudsman’ was first established in 1809 when the Swedish Parliament instituted an independent agency -Justitieombudsman - to safeguard the rights of the public. Today, there are several types and thousands of Ombudsman offices across the globe. 

Organizations create Ombudsman positions for a variety of reasons, some of which might include a desire to open lines of communication, establish or re-establish trust, offset legal actions, bridge the gap between leadership and employees, increase overall morale and oftentimes when there has been some sort of organizational crisis.

Usually, the first visit to an Ombudsman professional occurs when an employee is experiencing a workplace situation or conflict and is unsure where to go or what to do about it.  The Ombudsperson provides an option, particularly for someone who may feel uncomfortable about or not ready to begin a formal or legal process.

An Ombudsman professional offers the following services, sometimes in addition to particular organizational criteria, such as mediation:

  • Provides a safe environment
  • Listens to concerns
  • Assists with the identification of issues
  • Informally inquires about the situation to gather facts
  • Explores options through brainstorming and facilitation
  • Supplies resource and referral lists
  • Offers coaching and roleplaying opportunities

Four standards, recognized by the International Ombudsman Association, guide the organizational Ombudsman professional whenever they meet with someone:

  1. Confidentiality – the Ombudsperson has a duty to not reveal who visits them or what is shared during that visit, unless permission is given by the visitor or if something that is said suggests imminent risk of serious harm to the visitor/others. The promise of confidentiality is often the primary reason a person visits the Ombudsman professional.
  2. Informality – the Ombudsperson does not participate in any formal investigative procedures or actions.  Their office is not a place to make a formal complaint, it is an informal Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADP)
  3. Independence – the Ombudsperson operates independent of administrative offices or managerial structure.
  4. Neutrality – the Ombudsperson always strives to be impartial and neutral.  This means they do not take sides or advocate for anyone.

More information about establishing an Ombudsman office can be found at the International Ombudsman Association website.