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What does the word ombuds mean?

Ombuds comes from a Swedish word and means “representative” or “proxy.” Commonly used variations of the term include ombud and ombudsperson.

What is an Ombuds Charter?

Our charter documents and defines the role of the ombuds and scope of our duties within our campus.

What is a university ombuds?

The ombuds are designated neutral who provide conflict resolution and opportunities to engage in problem-solving for graduate students, staff, faculty, and campus leaders. We can serve as a consultant and/or coach who provide a safe space for individuals seeking information and insights. Following the International Ombuds Association code of ethics and standards of practice, ombuds are independent, impartial, informal, and confidential. We help people make empowered decisions related to organizational barriers, discomfort, disputes, and conflicts that stand in the way of reaching their full potential. We do not give formal opinions, do not serve as advocates, and do not decide what the outcome of a dispute should be. We as ombuds strive to treat people with respect and work to protect fairness for all.

How does the university benefit from the ombuds?

As ombuds, we assist the campus community to better manage conflict in ways that is more likely to lead to innovation rather than destruction. We can help you avoid spending excessive time attempting to resolve or avoid conflict. We help people become unstuck from challenging situations no matter how big or small so that they are able to engage in empowered decision-making. We also elevate thematic concerns to campus leaders that they may not encounter themselves, but can be critical in helping graduate students, staff, and faculty.

Conflict within organizations is normal, and in fact conflict can take a critical role in organizational innovation. In 2008 the Center for Psychological Press, Inc. (CPP) shared in their report Workplace Conflict and How Businesses can Harness it to Thrive, on average people spend 2.1 hours per week engaging with workplace conflict. In the same report, CPP reported the the cost of workplace conflict is estimated at $359 billion per year.

In a 2016 article from in the Harvard Business Review Putting a Price on People Problems at Work it was estimated that more than $144,000 is lost per day from interpersonal conflict, miscommunication, and poor decision-making. These numbers just show how pervasive conflict is in the workplace and how much time it is taking out of peoples’ lives. Many people recognize that conflict management skills are valuable, but they often are not provided with sufficient opportunities to build those skills.

Our staff can help you develop conflict management skills through educational programming, and help you navigate conflict through individual consultations and mediation services.

What services does the ombuds provide at UT?

Individual Consultation

Graduate students, staff, faculty, and campus leaders can talk to the ombuds about any issue in a confidential safe space. No matter how big or small your issue may be, we are here to help you. When you meet with us, we may help you

  • engage in reflective thinking,
  • clarify facts and assumptions, and
  • explore options for addressing the issue.

Our goal is to help you make an empowered decision about how to navigate the situation. Find more information about Individual Consultations here.

Mediation

The ombuds facilitates mediations between two or more individuals. As an informal process the goal of these mediation sessions is to help participants identify mutually shared concerns and help them come to a resolution. During mediation, the ombuds serve as an impartial facilitator of conversations. This process is voluntary for individuals interested in engaging in collaborative problem-solving with others. Finding more about our mediation services here.

Educational Programming

Our office provides several educational programming for campus community members to become better equipped to navigate conflict. We view conflict as opportunities for change and innovation. We can assist you in learning the conflict management skills that can  to gain best results through conflict management.

Organizational Feedback

The ombuds serve as a catalyst for constructive organizational change by identifying and sharing emerging trends and issues to campus leaders.

Is information shared with the ombuds confidential?

The office is a confidential and off-the-record resource for visitors, and it is not designated by the university as a formal reporting office. The only exceptions occur when a visitor grants permission to disclose information, when there appears to be an imminent risk of serious harm, and when disclosure is required by law.

Our staff do not keep detailed records, and information included in the annual report is handled in a way that protects visitor confidentiality. Unless required by university by law, the office does not participate in formal processes within or outside the university.

How does the ombuds differ from Human Resources?

Ombuds are an informal resource for the campus community while Human Resources (HR) is part of the formal structure of the organization. This means that HR is part of the reporting structure in our organization, but the ombuds is not. As an independent, impartial, and informal resource, ombuds can promise confidentiality for what you share with us as long as we do not see imminent risk of harm. Ombuds and HR are complementary and when there is partnership opportunities, we work collaboratively to provide multiple options for staff to access organizational resources.

Do people who become ombuds need to be licensed?

At this time in the United States there is no licensure requirement for ombuds. In 2009 the International Ombuds Association launched a certification credential for the Certified Organization Ombudsman Practitioner (CO-OP®). At any given time we strive to have ombuds at UT be CO-OP® certified; however, currently certification not required for an individual to serve as ombuds.

How do I get in touch with the ombuds?

Graduate students, staff, faculty, and campus leaders can book a meeting with an ombuds at our online booking page. We can meet with you in-person, in Zoom, or on the phone. You can also call 865-974-6273 to talk to an ombuds. If there is no answer, you can leave a message with your name and contact information. You can also email the office at ombuds@utk.edu, but email messages are not confidential.