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Ombuds Self-care: COVID and Beyond

By Dave Carver, PhD
IOA Board of Directors

As the COVID-19 crisis continues with no end in sight, organizational ombuds are confronted with unprecedented challenges that could lead to new opportunities for expanding our unique independent, impartial, informal, confidential role. But first we need to find ways to take care of ourselves as we look forward to a post-COVID “new normal.” Self-care can be difficult when we are isolated and spending many hours each day staring at our computer screens. Even in pre-pandemic times the ombuds role is often a lonely one, with many of us working in solo practices or communicating virtually with distant visitors. So, here are some basic tips for ombuds staying healthy in both mind and body.

  • Practice a "quiet time" stress management method of your choice for at least 20 minutes daily. Some examples of quiet time practices include deep breathing, mindfulness meditation, prayer, or positive affirmations.
  • Daily physical activity can help to ease stress and brighten your mood. Weather permitting, some direct sunlight and fresh air will provide a refreshing break from long periods of online interaction.
  • Spend a few minutes each day reviewing your strengths and accomplishments, including your goals and values. Avoid perfectionistic self-criticism and comparing yourself to others negatively.
  • Make a commitment to get 7-8 hours of high quality sleep whenever possible. Make sure your sleeping room is dark, not too hot or cold, and free from unnecessary electronic distractions. Don’t sleep with your smartphone! Avoid excessive caffeine or alcohol consumption and stop working at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
  • Stay in touch with supportive friends and family, while avoiding large crowds and shared public spaces as much as possible. Look for sources of humor in your daily life. Remember the old saying, laughter is the best medicine!
  • Spend a few minutes daily reviewing the things you have to be grateful for in your life.
  • Maintain regular contact with your ombuddies, ombuds allies, and other trusted colleagues. We need to maintain meaningful human contact, even when regular in-person meetings are not possible. And make it a point to reach out to others who appear to be struggling. We are all in this together!

In these times where stress may be high, what are some additional self-care strategies that help you cope? Please feel free to share in the comment section below.


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Centering ourselves in community: Is it time for ombuds to embrace restorative approaches to our work?

By Ryan Smith
Assistant University Ombudsperson, Michigan State University

I started jotting down some notes for this post a few months ago, before the world was turned upside down. The changes and disruptions brought about by COVID 19, the murder of George Floyd, the subsequent protests, and debate around police reform have fundamentally changed the society in which we live. Many of us are waking up to a reality that others among us have been aware of for quite some time, that the old ways of doing things are often rooted in systems of oppression and inequality, and now is the time to reconsider what, how, and why we do many things that we have likely taken for granted. While the public debate around policing continues, we also need to look inward and consider the roles that we as ombuds play in our communities and organizations.

When I tell people that I am an ombuds, this is almost always followed by a puzzled expression and the question “what’s that?” My short answer to this question is that an organizational ombuds helps people navigate conflict with and within an organization. In beginning my post with this, I am providing a simple definition of our work. Conflict resolution work is complex and multifaceted, and ombudsmanry is just one way to approach it. One important constant, something that I must remind myself regularly in my work, is that the overriding value in conflict resolution work is in relationships and human connection. If these things weren’t important to us, we would have no need for conflict resolution work. Human relationships and connections, then, are essentially at the heart of the work we do.

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Surviving and Thriving

By Prof. Mary Rowe, MIT

Covid-19, Black Lives Matter and #MeToo are illuminating our world like a lightning storm. These recent events inspire renewed commitment to understanding how organizational ombuds (OOs) can survive and thrive - for our organizations, for all our constituents and for ourselves. The humble questions below evolved to contribute to a recent sector meeting. Subsequent conversations highlighted the importance of these questions for all ombuds, and also the importance of our sharing the wisdom of each of us. If any of this is useful would you consider contributing ideas? (See the last paragraph.)  

SurvivingWhat IS surviving? 

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IOA Guidance Concerning COVID-19 and Contact Tracing

By Chuck Howard

Executive Director of IOA

Should an ombuds consider breaking confidence if the ombuds learns that someone has been diagnosed as positive for COVID-19 or been exposed to COVID-19 yet refuses to take action to protect others from further infection?

How might contact tracing affect ombuds’ confidentiality obligations and operational practices if either the ombuds or a visitor develops COVID-19?

These and similar questions have been raised with a request that IOA provide some guidance to IOA members on the implications of COVID-19 and contact tracing on their practices. As restrictions are being lifted and ombuds face the possibility of returning to their workplace offices and meeting with visitors in person, these questions take on added urgency and importance. In an effort to provide guidance to assist IOA members, IOA’s Executive Director prepared a memorandum with important information and recommendations on how ombuds might analyze these issues. You may access this important resource via this link:

COVID-19 IOA Memorandum

Virtual Meetings and the Virtual Ombudsman

By Bruce MacAllister 
IOA Board of Directors

In these strange and challenging times, many mediation and ombudsman programs are having to make the switch to working virtually with visitors using a variety of web-based and telephone-based meeting approaches.  While much of my mediation and ombuds work has been based out of “brick and mortar” programs, since 2011, much of my work has also been global and virtual. 

Making the switch from face-to-face, in-person meetings to more distant substitutes poses some challenges, but over time I have discovered some tips that seem to help close the gap between the comfort and ease of sitting down together in an informal setting to building connections with visitors and others via phone or via conferencing software.  The goal of this posting is to offer a few tips to successfully bridging the gap between the comparative ease and comfort of in-person meetings to holding those meetings from a distance.

Tips:

Tip 1: Observe ceremony.  When a visitor comes to me for an in-person meeting there are several things that are important:


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Ombuds Professional Development in Savannah in June

by International Ombudsman Association

Kennesaw State will host a two-day ombuds workshop in Savannah on June 4th & 5th.

Based on feedback from last year's participants, we've developed an agenda with experienced ombuds professionals delivering each session:

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Interview with Amanda Dean

by Roy Baroff, COOP®, Faculty and Staff Ombuds, NC State University

This is part of an ongoing series of conversations between an IOA Board Director and an IOA member.  In mid-August I, Roy Baroff (RB), spoke with Amanda Dean (AD), asking about her journey into ombuds practice, how IOA helped along the way, and what else IOA could or should be doing. We had a pretty far-ranging conversation; here’s a summary, and I hope you enjoy it! I really appreciate Amanda for sharing her time and her journey with us!

 RB: Could you start by sharing how you got into ombuds work?

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International Training in Columbia

There is still time to register for an exciting course taking place in Cartagena de Indias this October!  

The International Ombudsman Association (IOA) and the University of Los Andes are sponsoring an International Course on Labor Dispute Resolution based on IOA’s Foundations of Organizational Ombudsman Practice course. The course will take place in Cartagena de Indias on October 21-23, 2019. This is the first-ever IOA course offered in Colombia. The course will be conducted in Spanish. 

Course Description: Workplace conflict frequently emerges, whether it be in the classroom, public entities, or private companies. When conflicts are poorly managed, they cause declines in productivity and morale, consume time and resources, and trigger stress that can manifest physiologically. Such conflicts can cause long-lasting negative effects and costly legal/administrative fees that commonly result in unsatisfactory outcomes for the parties involved.

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Professional Development and the Revitalization of a Regional Ombuds Group in the SE US

By Tim Hedeen, Professor of Conflict Management and University Ombuds, Kennesaw State University
and Jennifer Schneider, Student Ombuds, University of South Florida

 Do you like sunshine, history, and architecture?
 Do you enjoy meeting with other bright, like-minded people?
 Are you an ombuds in the southeastern region of the US?

If you answered affirmatively to any of the above statements, then join us in Savannah, GA this summer!


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New Book Club for Ombuds

Coordinated by Lisa Neale and Hector Escalante, in conjunction with Cal Caucus, this book club exists to connect the ombuds community to talk about privilege, inclusion, and justice. All are welcome to participate.

The group’s first meeting will be held via Zoom for one hour on Friday, 08 March at 2PM Eastern. The book to be discussed is White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Dr. Robin DiAngelo, a New York Times Bestseller. (Dr. DiAngelo is scheduled to be a keynote speaker at #IOA2019 in New Orleans in April.)

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IOA2019 Conference Registration Open!

IOA2019 Conference Registration Open!

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IOAConfEmail_Register NowWhite text on purple background – “Register now” – next to a line drawing of a figure in a circle.

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Registration is now open for the IOA 2019 Annual Conference in New Orleans! Visit the brand-new conference site to view a working agenda, check out the host hotel, and complete your registration today!

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Popcorn Share – Check out these resources!

Were you able to attend Popcorn Share: Discover New Resources to Enhance Your Ombuds Practice in Richmond? It was a highly-interactive session that resulted in the “crowdsharing” of this 9-page Popcorn Share Resource Guide. Within the guide you’ll find a variety of nuggets on coaching, training, navigating sticky situations, addressing systemic issues, and all kinds of professional development tips and tools.

We challenge all ombuds to review the list, discover something new, and comment below with something missed! Resources can be books, movies, assessments, tools, videos. TED talks, articles, ancient wisdom, psychology, brain science, metaphors, images, mantras….

Have some fun with it!