Ombudsperson’s annual report: ‘conflict management skills sometimes lacking’

Employees report more incidents than students; most issues are related to social safety.
Conflict management skills, the ability to effectively address your emotions, opinions and convictions during and after a conflict, are sometimes lacking, the ombudsperson states in her annual report. Photo Shutterstock

A total of 56 incidents were reported by 93 individuals during WUR’s ombudsperson’s first year. In 33 of those cases, an intervention by the ombudsperson was deemed fitting.

These data are presented in the ombudsperson’s first annual report, which covers roughly the first 14 months of the ombudsperson’s tenure at WUR, from mid-September 2021 till 1 November 2022. Jacqueline Schoone, serving as interim ombudsperson, is the first to hold such a function at WUR, which means there is no baseline.

Faltering leadership

The majority of the reported incidents during this period related to social safety, with leadership being part of the problem, says Schoone in her report. The manager involved was insufficiently accessible or present, was not transparent or open enough, or failed to foster interpersonal connections. This, in turn, led to negligence, a lack of focus on inclusion and diversity, intimidating behaviour directed at employees, favouritism and erratic behaviour, the report states.

This faltering leadership is partially explained by the fact that managers at WUR are under considerable pressure and juggle too many tasks, she writes. Additionally, managers are insufficiently screened or trained in leadership. Schoone hence recommends that WUR encourages all its managers to participate in a leadership programme.

Conflict management skills

The ombudsperson also recommends that WUR trains its managers in addressing undesirable behaviour. In her report, she explains: ‘Managers are often reluctant to address undesirable or transgressive behaviour. Behavioural issues are often downplayed or excused -the person has contributed a lot to the team or education programme- or they fear hurting their feelings. Conflict management skills, the ability to effectively address your emotions, opinions and convictions during and after a conflict, are sometimes lacking, as well as the ability to recognise and resolve conflicts. As a result, issues often persisted for too long before being addressed.’

Origin of reports

Most of the reports submitted during the period covered came from employees. Only 16 per cent were submitted by students. This percentage is on the rise. PhD students, a vulnerable group within the university due to their dependence on their supervisor, says the report, are responsible for 9 per cent of the reports. The majority of the reporters are women (63%). In 45 of the cases, the reporter was directly affected by the behaviour, while 11 cases were reported by bystanders. Hence, continued support for the role of bystanders is critically important, according to the ombudsperson. ‘This is covered by the social safety programme in the coming years’,  she states.


The intranet reports that the executive board has accepted the ombudsperson’s annual report with interest and will consider the recommendations. ‘The steering committee for integrity and social safety has been asked to include the recommendations in their plans, for example in the social safety programme’,  the post states.

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