Ombud’s corner: A shared anniversary!

As CERN celebrates its 60th anniversary, it not only looks back at its past successes with pride, it also looks ahead at the many other ways in which it can continue to contribute to the groundbreaking work of the scientific community. In the same way, it is normal for its individual members who are approaching a similar birthday to expect to be appreciated not only for the part they have played in the Organization’s history, but also for the many other ways in which they can continue to contribute to its future.


The reality is not always so rosy and our older colleagues sometimes find themselves feeling marginalised and insignificant.

Anna is an engineer approaching her sixties. Throughout her professional life she has been working on developing technologies for accelerators. In more recent years, she has taken on some coordination tasks where her ability to see the bigger picture and reconcile differences is appreciated. However, little by little, she has been losing touch with the technical side of the job.

Things move faster and faster in our world and it is indeed a real danger that older people begin to feel no longer on top of things and find themselves in situations where they start doubting their own competence.

Claire is a young colleague of Anna’s. She spends long hours at work and is an asset to the team because of her very strong and up-to-date technical skills. She is also a problem-solver. She considers Anna to be too cautious and reluctant to try new things, and consequently, she often interrupts her during meetings when discussing the technical challenges faced by the group.

In such situations, the reaction of colleagues is crucial to maintaining team spirit and ensuring that the workplace remains an environment where the many different contributions of individuals are understood and valued.

After a while, Anna decides to give up and doesn’t take part in discussions anymore. The colleagues around the table continue the meetings as if nothing unusual has happened. Anna begins to feel invisible. She begins to withdraw from the group’s regular interactions and it becomes more and more difficult for her to carry out her coordination tasks with the same high level of enthusiasm as before.

Anna is not alone in feeling invisible. Nowadays, technological progress means that we tend to turn more and more towards technology for information and forget that very often, despite all the technical drawings and specifications that we have recorded in our databases, the real memory of how things were built can only be found in the brains and hands of our older colleagues.

While Claire’s ‘state of the art’ technical skills are invaluable to the team, so too are Anna’s wealth of experience and knowledge of the field; both carry vital information for the success of any project. The key lies in creating an environment that fosters the innovative approaches proposed by recent graduates whilst guarding against behaviours that make older colleagues feel isolated and their expertise undermined.

Isolation very easily leads to a sense of being invisible, and from there it does not take much for someone to begin to feel insignificant.

At CERN, we may not often experience situations like the one described here. However, if you are beginning to feel a little like Anna, or suspect that you may be behaving like Claire, or indeed, if you are a member of their team, do not let this situation develop any further. Talk to your colleagues or your supervisors about it, nip the situation in the bud and if needed, remember that the Ombud is available to support you in turning the situation around.

At a time when CERN is celebrating its 60th anniversary, it is celebrating your years of contribution as well!

As a reminder, all previous Ombud's Corners can be accessed in the Ombud's blog.

by Sudeshna Datta-Cockerill