May 13, 2010

When you don't know where to go

by Diana Pounds

When there's a problem at work, a sympathetic ear is nice, but a solution is even better. Elaine Newell offers both.

As ombuds officer, Newell helps faculty, professional and scientific, and supervisory/confidential staff and graduate and professional students tackle troublesome issues that arise in the workplace. Her role is to help clients find informal ways to resolve conflicts and concerns.

"The ombuds office is a great resource when you don't know where to go," Newell said. "It's also a neutral resource. I don't represent the university or the people who come here to talk. We sit down and discuss the situation and come up with some options."

Newell said poor communication is at the root of many workplace problems.

"Easily, 75 to 80 percent of issues I deal with involve a lack of information or miscommunication," she said.

When people don't have all the facts, it's easy to jump to a wrong conclusion, she added. For example, an employee who doesn't know why his or her job duties have changed might erroneously conclude that the boss is displeased.

"A lot of times, as ombuds, I can help two parties come together in a respectful way," Newell said.

Newell emphasized she won't talk to anyone without clients' permission.

"Confidentiality is really critical. But if they give me permission to talk to the other side, it provides a bit more leeway in addressing the issue."

Summer hours in the ombuds office are 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Make appointments through Newell at 4-0268 or Walk-ins are welcome Wednesdays from noon to 1 p.m.