HR Magazine: Someone to Listen

 

Jan 1, 2003

HR Magazine, January 2003

Vol. 48, No. 1

Ombuds at Shell



A healthy interaction between HR and ombuds is easier to achieve if the relationship is set up properly from the outset.

Among the issues that surfaced when Shell Oil Co. started an ombudsman office were how the office could maintain a connection with HR, how it could preserve confidentiality and how it could get HR to review potential legal problems.

“You have to be careful early on that the ombuds are not leaving HR out of the loop,” says Glenn Gilchrist, vice president for people services-Americas at Shell. HR should at least get a “courtesy call” that something’s going on in their area of responsibility, he says, as well as periodic reviews of activity and trends.

Shell’s ombudsman office does conflict resolution and mediation training for Shell HR, and both offices mediate employee disputes. The ombudsman also meets with HR regularly to review policies and procedures as well as confidentiality matters relating to liability. Each year Gilchrist personally handles a few cases referred by the ombudsman.

“Not everybody runs to [the ombuds] at Shell,” Gilchrist says. Most workplace issues are resolved between management and the employee, often with HR in a conflict-resolution role, he says. “It seems to be when communication breaks down that cases end up in Resolve,” which is Shell’s conflict resolution program.

The ombuds tries to have the complainant get management or HR involved in any “extreme case” of alleged harassment, says Gilchrist. The ombudsman, he says, “recognizes what could happen in the workplace if something like that got out” and hadn’t been acted on by management.

Extreme situations are rare, Gilchrist says, but when they have occurred, the ombudsman has worked with employees “to get them to get the right information to the right people” rather than keep it under wraps. “At Shell,” he adds, “we’ve never had [a case] where we haven’t gotten it worked out.”

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