08 Apr Who’s Your Organizational Ombudsman?

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Feel like you wear a lot of hats in your business? Well, here's one you might not have even known you needed to occasionally doff: organizational ombudsman. This is someone who mediates disputes in the workplace and to whom employees can talk about workplace issues confidentially. Having one on staff is part of an effort to avoid whistleblowers like Edward Snowden or — on a level more relatable to independent retailers — nasty things like discrimination lawsuits or disputes between employees.

A report last year on American Public Media’s Marketplace radio program said that more corporations are turning to organizational ombudsman on staff — not that we’re recommending your mom-and-pop shop expand into a mom-and-pop-and-organizational-obudsman shop. (Main Street would never look the same!)

But there are actually companies out there that provide sort of freelance ombudsmen (and -women, presumably), and I suspect you, the optical retailer, have had occasion to doff your occupational ombudsman hat more than once without knowing it. “I ombuds with my husband at home all the time,” the president of the International Ombudsman Association was quoted in the story as saying.

While I personally like to laugh at the thought of someone using “ombud” as a verb, the story raises some very real concerns, even on a small-business level. The piece on Marketplace uses the person you share an office with breathing too loudly which is really annoying. Think about your own store: What about the technician who forgets his lunch in the communal fridge for a month? Or how about the stylist who somehow always manages to arrive just after setup? What about the interpersonal angst that builds between employees that you’re never even aware of? The minor stuff that builds and builds until someone feels like he’s going to explode?

Well, what if someone did explode?

We at INVISION hear a lot that many stores’ staffs are “just like family.” I think we all know it’s only human nature to treat those closest to us with a little more frankness and perhaps a little less respect than we do people we hold at arm’s length when we’re annoyed with them. And so it’s particularly important for the little things not to blow up or get out of hand.

Do you have a person anyone on staff can speak with confidentially about their issues with others in your store? Often, just having someone to speak with can defuse tense issues before they blow up — even if “blowing up” means just an argument that could have been prevented. So, if you haven’t ever worn your organizational ombudsman cap, you might consider getting it out and letting your staff know they have someone they can always speak with if they ever have any issues, even if those issues are with family members. And if you’re interested in reading how the big guys do it, check out this story.

Last modified on Wednesday, 08 April 2015 09:54
Ralf Kircher

Ralf Kircher is Group Executive Editor for SmartWork Media, overseeing the production of INVISION magazine.