Meet Michigan Medicine: Office of the Staff Ombuds

January 13, 2020  //  FOUND IN: Our Employees,
L-R: Donna Hooper, program specialist; Jennifer Symanns, J.D., ombuds assistant and mediator; Jacqueline Bowman, Ph.D., staff ombuds.

At Michigan Medicine, faculty and staff work in a fast-paced — and sometimes stressful — environment as they serve patients and families. And, just like in any other workplace with thousands of employees, it’s an organization where conflicts may arise in the workplace.

To help mitigate those conflicts, all non-bargained-for staff members have a dependable resource: The Office of the Staff Ombuds.

“We are an independent, confidential, neutral third party who assists staff and administrators in resolving problems, concerns and complaints in informal ways,” said Jacqueline Bowman, Ph.D., staff ombudsperson for U-M and Michigan Medicine. “Our office doesn’t advocate for a particular side, rather for fair processes and procedures.”

To help employees take better advantage of Bowman’s small, yet integral, team, here’s what you may not know about the Office of the Staff Ombuds.

Strictly confidential

The staff ombuds is a confidential place to share your workplace concerns. For example, if a non-bargained-for employee feels they are being treated unfairly, experiencing intimidating or abusive behavior in their workplace, or feel their concerns are not being heard, they are free to contact the staff ombuds. The office will then schedule an in-person or phone meeting with the employee, depending on preference and availability.

“We provide staff members a safe place to voice and clarify their concerns, and can help them explore options on how to proceed,” Bowman said.

As a neutral and informal office, potential options offered to staff could include:

  • Bowman and her team may provide shuttle diplomacy, which could include speaking with a manager or supervisor, to better understand the conflict and ways to manage it;
  • The team can help mediate and facilitate conversations between coworkers, or between employees and their supervisor;
  • The ombuds will help you weigh the benefits and risks of other appropriate university resources available, such as Human Resources, the Office of Counseling and Workplace Resilience, or the Office of Institutional Equity.
  • The individual may choose to do nothing more than voice their concerns to the staff ombuds.

“No matter which option is chosen, it’s a strictly confidential process, meaning that an employee’s name will never be used without their permission if a concern is escalated,” Bowman said. “On top of that, visitors to our office drive the process. We will always provide options and make referrals, if appropriate.”

That’s not the only thing that makes it confidential. The office never conducts formal investigations, nor does it retain records.

“If you just want a place to speak out about what you are experiencing, we can be that sounding board for you,” Bowman said. 

Providing value

So why is the staff ombuds such a valuable asset to the organization? First, the ombuds team plays an important role in improving and preserving working relationships.

“We help build trust between colleagues and provide a method for accountability,” Bowman said. “From Voices of the Staff and employee engagement surveys, we know that such things are a major concern for staff.”

On top of that, the team helps employees navigate other resources offered by the university. The Staff Ombuds Office does not replace any existing resources. 

“While we offer no psychological counseling or legal services, we can point staff visitors in the direction of those who do,” Bowman said.

Finally, the team helps improve the work environment, increasing retention and limiting litigation. In the end, it’s all about having a place that employees feel comfortable turning to in a time of need.

How to reach out

If you have a concern that you’d like to bring to the attention of the staff ombuds, you can reach out via this contact form on the office’s website. Employees can also call the office at 734-936-0600 or email

The team tries to meet with anyone who reaches out within one week, if not sooner.

“If you’ve reached the point that you are contacting us, then we know that your work experience is not a positive one,” Bowman said. “So we try to get the process rolling as soon as possible so we can assist with finding a fair and equitable resolution.”

For Michigan Medicine employees, meetings tend to take place at the office’s location on the fifth floor of Med Sci I’s C Wing. It is important to note, however, that Bowman and her team are willing to travel to ambulatory care clinics around the area if that is where employees work.

“Our main concern is our colleagues — we want them to find a resolution to any issue that is preventing them from having the best work experience they can have,” Bowman said. “It’s why we’re here and why we want all of our employees to know about the services we offer.”

If you are a bargained-for staff member, please refer to your union representative for the proper channels for conflict resolution.