Ombuds and “Informality”

by Mary Sue Love, AOM Ombuds

juggling tasksI’ve been struggling with a work decision recently. It may come as no surprise to many mid-career academics, but I was feeling over committed and I needed to let at least one service role go.  I’ve attended meetings and listened to about seven different perspectives on whether to let go of this particular officer role.  I’d have loved to talk in detail with any of these seven people, but I knew their perspectives and I didn’t want to be convinced to stay; I just wanted to sort through all of their points and see how they could help inform my choice.  The problem: I was torn and didn’t really know exactly what I wanted, what my motives were, and what was best for me and the organization I was poorly serving.  I needed someone who would listen and help me clarify my own perspective, not share one more!

Turns out, this is exactly when an Ombuds can be helpful.  Not only must they remain neutral, but being informal is much more than just not taking notes or putting anyone on record. Last year, the AoM Ombuds committee started a series of posts on the International Ombudsman Association Standards of Practice . AOM Ombuds Greg Stephens started the series with general information on the role of an ombuds; then I wrote about neutrality and impartiality. Nancy Day wrote about confidentiality, then Greg wrote on independence.

I’m finishing our series with a discussion on informality, something I recently turned to an Ombuds for myself.  Last spring, Nancy posted on the topic for her university. She does a great job of defining informality, saying, “being an informal resource means I can help you think about your problem in different ways that may help address it without going through the complications of a formal process such as a grievance. Working with me is off-the-record, and no one will know you’ve been to see me unless you tell them.”  She’s right, according to the International Ombudsman Association Standards of Practice, informality means we are ‘off the record,’ we don’t make binding decisions, and we do not participate in any formal procedures.

You might ask, then, what can an Ombuds do, and how can one help me decide whether to drop this committee obligation?  Ombuds can listen, help you identify issues, discuss a range of options, reframe things, just like Nancy said in her post. But why is this so powerful?

Renowned psychologist Carl Rogers spoke to this in his 1958 address to the American Personnel and Guidance Association.  Titled “The Characteristics of a Helping Relationship,” and reprinted in his book “On Becoming a Person,” many other places, and here , Rogers describes the undeniable magic that can happen when a person is listened to by another who is genuine, empathetic, and non-judgmental.  In this safe space, the individual is able to speak freely and have her ideas and feelings clarified.  In so doing, Rogers found that patients often were able to develop workable solutions to their own problems.  This was quite a departure from the more prescriptive psychological theories of Rogers’ day.

Today I want to share just how magical it is when someone helps you sort through your own mess of thoughts and feelings to find your own workable solution.  I started my conversation with the Ombuds by sharing the nuts and bolts of my obligations, my thoughts as to why this was the one commitment to let go, and the reasons others thought this was a bad idea on my part.  For the first time in weeks, I was able to talk about the issues without fear of judgment and without being pressured by others. Part of my confusion was in the thought of letting down so many other committed individuals. Yet part of what they weren’t hearing from me was how I felt I was already letting them down by not being able to give the role all the time and dedication it required. About halfway through my second round of being listened to without judgment, I started to hear myself say “I can’t fulfill the obligations of this role and…” The last three times I’d started that sentence, I’d been cut off by one of those seven other perspectives.  However, my informal Ombuds didn’t cut me off, she let me talk through all my mixed motives. So as I listened to the last half of that sentence for the first time, my decision gelled and the force of it resonated within me.

The tone of the conversation changed as I gained enthusiasm and momentum for my decision.  We quickly moved from my fears to real solutions.  By the time we finished the conversation, I had a plan for next steps.  Because I was clear with myself, I was able to articulate my decision to others in a way that helped strengthen the leadership team instead of leaving them in the lurch.  It’s been about six weeks since I made the decision to step down from leadership and focus on the sub-committee work for this fledgling organization. I feel better, obviously, but because I took the time to sort my thoughts and feelings with an Ombuds, I was able to find a resolution that benefitted not just me but the organization too.

Yes, we were hacked!

If you received an odd message from The Ethicist this weekend, please know that we are aware that someone hacked the blog and are dealing with it.

Leading Ethically Through Diversity and Inclusion Policies

Guest Post from Kristine D. Jones-Pasley, Ph.D.

From the AOM Code of Ethics: AOM members are aware of and respect cultural, individual, and role
differences, including those based on age, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual
orientation, disability, language, and socioeconomic status, and they consider these factors when working with all
people. AOM members try to eliminate the effect on their work of biases based on these factors, and they do not
knowingly participate in or condone activities of others based upon such prejudices.

We know that a hot topic for many organizations is the creation of a diverse and inclusive work endiversity at workvironment. Organizations tend to focus on gender and race when it comes to the topic of diversity; however, diversity is much more. Let’s focus on diversity as it relates to people with disabilities (PWD).

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) (2017), the unemployment rate in 2016 for PWD was 10.5% vs 4.6% for people without disabilities (para. 1). BLS (2017) stated that the unemployment rate for PWD “was little changed from the previous year” (para. 1).

We need to look at these numbers in context, the BLS report information comes from the Current Population Survey, which surveys 60,000 households on employment statuses in the United States. The information is voluntary and from their data BLS determined that the majority of those surveyed with a disability were over the age of 65. This information leads to several questions:

  • Are those younger than 65 hesitant to acknowledge their disability?
  • If they are hesitant, why?
  • How many in the workforce are hiding their disability?

I want to touch on the last question. How many in the workforce are hiding their disability? This one question leads to a host of several questions regarding leadership and organizational culture. When we think of disability we tend to think of visible disabilities; however, there are a number of individuals who have non-visible disabilities.

Think about your team, how many do you know suffer from chronic depression? Diabetes? Heart disease? Migraine headaches? These are just some of the impairments that are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Can you also see why some individuals do not self-identify as having a disability?

Continue to think about your team. Do you have someone on your team that has used a lot of leave in large blocks due to a mysterious illness. Do you have someone on your team that takes several breaks throughout the day to walk around, in the restroom, in their car, etc.?

Have you as a leader and your organization in general, created an environment where team members feel comfortable reporting that they are facing challenges? Are you currently “watching” a member of your team for one more strike so that you can release them from the company? If you knew that they had a disability would you change your mind about releasing them from the company? If you knew that your top employee had two heart attacks, would this change your opinion of the person and their value to the organization?

Legally, you could release the person from the organization if they are missing large amounts of time or taking a lot of breaks. Ethically, should you do it if mitigating circumstances are presented?

Conduct an audit on your organizational diversity and inclusion initiatives. What is in place regarding reasonable accommodations for PWD? How many leaders/managers/supervisors/team leads have self-identified as having a disability? Although organizations state that they are open to diversity and inclusion, many do not have the initiatives in place to support these statements.

If you are unsure of how to start a diversity and inclusion initiative, join me for the webinar: Defining Diversity and Inclusion for Your Organization.

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LIVE!! Diversity and Inclusion Webinar

Title: Defining Diversity and Inclusion for Your Organization

This webinar provides actionable first steps in creating a diversity and inclusion initiative for your organization.

Date: Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Time: 2 PM ET/1 PM CT/12 PM MT/11 AM PT

Audience: Leaders, managers, supervisors, change makers, and human resources professionals.

Register at: https://www.crowdcast.io/e/definingdi

This webinar is limited to 50 people, register now and save your seat. Those who attend will have access to the recording for two weeks.

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References:

Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2017, June 21). Economic news release: Persons with a disability: Labor force characteristics summary. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/news.release/disabl.nr0.htm