CERN gets an “Ombuds”

Vincent Vuillemin, previously Head of the EN Department, has been appointed CERN's first “Ombuds”. According to Wikipedia, the word Ombudsman, which is of Swedish origin, means: "a person who acts as a trusted intermediary between an organization and some internal or external constituency". He is authorised to be the first person whom people can consult when it has not proved possible to resolve a potential interpersonal conflict amicably or with the assistance of the competent hierarchy.


Vincent Vuillemin, the new CERN's Ombuds.

The word does not necessarily mean much to non-HR specialists. "Ombuds is a broad term, because an ombuds uses lots of techniques and not just pure mediation," explains Vincent Vuillemin. "If a disagreement or potential conflict arises, he talks to the people involved to get their point of view and help them. He can also provide coaching so that discussions can be conducted in a proper way. The aim is to provide people with the means to solve problems themselves."

Several companies, organizations and democratic countries have introduced the office of ombuds. At CERN, the role will enter into force at the same time as the new Code of Conduct. "The Code of Conduct is the ombuds' point of reference, the framework within which to conduct his work: he relates the circumstances of the potential conflict to the standards of behaviour and principles of mutual respect expounded in the general rules of the Code of Conduct", explains Vuillemin.

The ombuds is a different channel of communication from the official channels such as the Human Resources Department and Staff Association. His role is completely informal, neutral and impartial. "If a conflict arises, the process of coming to talk to me about it is entirely voluntary," confirms Vuillemin. "I am the first port of call for informal consultations, someone to whom people can come to explain their problem. My mandate does not allow me to take part in formal inquiries, and, although I can recommend them, I don't have the authority to request them."

But informal doesn't mean without a mandate. On the contrary, the ombuds is formally mandated by the Organization to fulfil a precise role that must also comply with certain very strict obligations of confidentiality, impartiality and independence. "Within this framework, the ombuds can intervene to facilitate inter-personal relations. He becomes effective when he is able to act at the very beginning of a potential misunderstanding, of a breakdown in communication or of a conflict. Things develop in stages before they get as far as becoming fully-fledged group or individual harassment. Early intervention improves the chances of achieving a positive outcome to the conflict and reduces the number of formal inquiries, which can unfortunately leave scars behind."

It is therefore a role that is closely involved with people and as a result a very complicated one. "The ombuds must remain independent, must be capable of withstanding any pressure and must have his career behind him. He must also know how to talk to people from the very different cultural backgrounds represented at CERN. My fourteen years as a group leader or head of department have provided me with management skills that will be useful to me in this new role," concludes Vuillemin. And he adds, "To do this job properly you have to have a gift for empathy and you need to be receptive to people's problems. Outside CERN, I am a Buddhist monk and a Zen master. I like to think that I have acquired a certain skill in managing people's problems."

The new role of Ombuds will be further explained at the special information session organised by the HR Department and the Management on

Friday, 25 June at 9.30 a.m. in the Main Auditorium.

The meeting will be broadcast live in the BE Auditorium on the Prévessin site (Building 864) and can also be viewed at:

by CERN Bulletin