Ombuds’ corner: Is our respectful workplace strategy working?

“I hope that the Code of Conduct will be a valuable tool in the maintenance and development of a workplace marked by mutual respect and understanding. We should familiarize ourselves with it, and incorporate it into our daily life at CERN.”*


“The Organization does not tolerate harassment, which can result in administrative and/or disciplinary action.”**

Our Code of Conduct (“the Code”) sets the basic standards of ethical behaviour that we must first all set for ourselves. In addition, we are also entitled to expect our workplace colleagues to respect these standards. In biblical terms, if I may, the Code is an incentive for us to notice the beam obstructing our eyes and not focus on the speck in the eyes of our colleagues. In short, we should first look to ourselves to apply the Code. Managers, whatever their position, should be accountable for their team being aware of the Code and are acting according to its values - just as they are accountable for the technical achievements of their team.

Is having a Code enough to change people's behaviour? No, certainly not. To answer yes would be marvellous - but we should accept that it is not the case. Even some managers do not act according to its values and, if their upper management does not take action, they will be led to believe that they enjoy a kind of impunity due to their position or technical competence. Quick action by management is the keystone of our strategy to build a respectful workplace environment. If this is not done, then a general umbrella of impunity will cover all unethical actions. As a result, our Code will go unheeded.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have our harassment policy. Only a formal procedure can lead to real managerial or administrative actions; an informal procedure with the Ombuds will not. But since the publication of the Operational Circular No. 9**, no harassment cases have been pursued through a formal procedure. Why? The reasons could be numerous: efficient informal treatment of cases, the culture of the house, fear of retaliation or the exhaustion of the alleged victims, feeling that the alleged harassers are protected and that no action will be taken? Whatever the reasons may be, it remains that this formal procedure - which is the only possibility that can lead to penalty - has yet to be used. Such circumstances also have the effect of favouring impunity.

In order for our strategy to build a better respectful workplace environment towork, all possible means of conflict resolution should be considered normal. That includes formal procedures. It is equally important that management at every level embraces its responsibility to act quickly when it witnesses violations of CERN values.

It will take some time. As a Zen proverb says: “If a person does not reveal the truth, in the end the truth will reveal itself naturally.” Let us not wait too long!

We still have progress to make before we are “ensuring that CERN continues to pursue its mission in a manner that inspires trust and respect while maintaining a healthy and stimulating environment for all.”*

* Rolf Heuer, Director General, CERN Code of Conduct

** Operational Circular No. 9 “Principles and Procedures Governing Complaints of Harassment”

Contact the Ombuds Early!


by Vincent Vuillemin