Ombuds Officer: ‘HR should be more empathetic’

| Michaela Nesvarova

‘The role of HR at the University of Twente should be reconsidered,’ states Ombuds Officer Han Warmelink in his annual report. ‘UT employees are afraid to approach the HR department, because they think that HR is not here to help them, but to help the employer. That is a problem,’ says the ombudsman.

UT Ombuds Officer Han Warmelink

In your annual report for 2020-2021, you expressed your concerns regarding the role and position of HR at the UT. What has led to this?

Warmelink: ‘In my role, I’m of course confronted with problems experienced by employees. I always ask them: did you go to the HR for help? People who approach me mostly answer that they are afraid to go to HR, that HR won’t help them. This was very surprising to me and I wanted to address it.’  

ombuds officer Annual report 2020-2021

In the academic year 2020-2021, the Ombuds Officer:

  • Received a total of 39 reports
  • Majority of reports (27) were submitted by staff members
  • The most common topic raised in the reports was ‘Troubled (individual) working relationship’ (16 reports)
  • Terms and conditions of employment / end of appointment’ was the second most common topic addressed by the Ombuds Officer (11 reports)

You can see the full report here.

Is people’s reluctance to approach HR justified, in your experience?

‘If I contact HR, they are always willing to help, but people themselves often don’t want to engage HR. There is a perception that HR is not there primarily for the employees, and that they do not adopt an independent, neutral position between employee and manager. I don’t know whether this is true, but people definitely think it is true. In my experience, HR is helpful, but in some cases I see that HR too quickly takes the side of the management. They don’t take the time to think along with the employee and simply suggest the solution proposed by the manager. In some cases, HR immediately just sent out a settlement agreement to the employee, for example. They should be more empathetic and search for the right solution together with the employee.’

What can be done to improve the situation?

‘We can improve the situation by repositioning HR. I think it would be helpful if HR had a more neutral position, if it was more autonomous. I think that would be beneficial for employees.’  

Have you had any responses on your report?

‘Yes, I have. I’ve had talks with HR and the Executive Board - which is very wise. I wanted to start the discussion about this, because HR needs to be involved in solving problems related to working at the university. I don’t know if the HR makes the conscious choice to be the representative of the employer or if people only perceive it that way. But this topic needs to be discussed either way. We first need to acknowledge that there is a problem before we can find a solution.’  

Reaction from HR

HR Director Hans Oeloff responds to the Ombuds Officer’s annual report:

‘The Ombuds Officer's findings are taken very seriously and are and will be discussed in several meetings in the presence of the Ombuds Officer. As a result of these discussions, improvement actions will be drawn up and taken; it has already been established that all departments and faculties have a role to play in this.’


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