May. 10, 2022


It’s understandable.

Maybe you started your new job with a feeling of hope, looking forward to making new friends. Maybe you thought your new boss was going to be better than your old one. Maybe you knew, for sure, your supervisor—who has had nothing but praise for you since you started—would be happy to switch you to remote work.

But things aren’t going the way you expected.

You seem to be having trouble fitting in. Your new boss is actually quite a bit worse than the old one. And remote work…well, it doesn’t seem remotely possible right now.

You need, you realize, someone to talk to. But who?

You can definitely talk to someone outside of work. It is great to have a supportive listener who will let you vent and reaffirm your essential worth. But they will only have your perspective to guide them, and won’t know a lot of the context. So while you’ll get some positive affirmation, you won’t have done much to make the situation better.

Similarly, you can talk to your co-workers (current or former) who are not direct parties to your issues. You might get the same level of commiseration as you would from those outside of UNLV, with a little more institutional knowledge. Depending on how open you are to honest feedback, these discussions can provide some valuable perspective. You might even get some actionable advice. But too often, talking with co-workers turns into a complain-a-thon, with everyone dumping their problems on the table. There is, admittedly, something cathartic about sharing just how unhappy you are, and you might leave the session feeling a little better.

And that’s where venting goes wrong, if you are serious about actually improving your situation. Don’t get me wrong—if, after hearing everyone else’s troubles, you decide yours aren’t so bad and you are able to make your peace with your situation, that is fantastic. I’d consider it a successful resolution. But if you are sincerely unhappy and want something to change, complaining without doing anything might relieve the pressure in the short term (the meaning of “vent”), but might actually prevent you from taking action.

You could also turn to your supervisor for advice. This is a great strategy for issues about career development, procedural questions, and, in some cases, conflicts with co-workers. But for obvious reasons you can’t talk to your supervisor if your problem is with your supervisor, or if your supervisor is enmeshed in the group dynamics that are frustrating you.

What about your supervisor’s supervisor? While they might have solid advice, and they are in a position to make changes, this one requires careful thought. First, your supervisor might not look kindly at you going “over their head” to their boss. Second, it is likely that they spend more face time with your supervisor than you, so unless the case is particularly egregious and you can present compelling evidence, they are likely to be biased in favor of their direct report, even if they aren’t consciously aware of it. Those with a higher appetite for risk might like this option, but it is one that can go spectacularly wrong.

Then there is the option of seeking professional assistance. For psychological and emotional issues, resources like the Employee Assistance Program, the PRACTICE, and the Center for Individual, Couple, and Family Counseling are excellent places to turn. They provide a variety of supports for members of the UNLV community.

For issues that shade more into organizational and interpersonal dimensions, the Ombuds Office is an excellent resource (here I am being biased but absolutely sincere). We are open to everyone on campus and are absolutely free and confidential. Essentially, we are a zero-barrier first stop when you have an issue. Sometimes, we can work with you to resolve the issue, but if not, we can direct you to the most appropriate channel.

Here’s an example of what the Ombuds can for you. Let’s say you aren’t happy with your latest personnel evaluation. The Ombuds can walk you through your options for rejoinder and peer review as well as discussing strategies to improve your communications with your supervisor. If receiving the negative evaluation has triggered anxiety or other acute psychological issues, we would give you information about options for counseling (i.e., the three resources mentioned two paragraphs up). If both you and your supervisor want to discuss your differences and work on a plan for better interactions, we can talk about mediation, which is an excellent option for facilitation. And, if there are larger systemic concerns in your area affecting numerous people, we can discuss the potential for a facilitated discussion involving the entire group.

Given that all you are risking is your time, I can’t think of any situation where a talk with the Ombuds wouldn’t be a good first step, regardless of the nature of your problem. The absolute worst that will happen is that a sympathetic person listens to you and helps you discuss options. In a better case scenario, you will get institutional and interpersonal perspectives that may put you on the path to a positive resolution.

If the Ombuds is a good place to start, the question is when is a good time to go? Usually, as soon as possible. Friedrich Glasl has developed a nine-step model of conflict escalation, ranging from “hardening” to “together into the abyss.” As the conflicts escalate, resolving them with the assistance of a third party becomes increasingly unlikely. And, as those involved head together towards the abyss, a lose-lose outcome seems more likely than not. So early intervention makes the task of resolving the conflict much, much less daunting.

It’s important to say that, no matter who the conflict is with, you have a right to speak with the Ombuds and use the resources of the Ombuds Office. No one can stop you from visiting the office. In fact, the Ombuds Charter states that, “All members of the constituencies served by the Office should have the right to consult the Office without reprisal. The University and its agents will not retaliate against individuals for consulting with the Office.” This means that if someone tells you that you are not permitted to visit the office, they are wrong. And if they threaten to retaliate against you for visiting the office, they are in violation of university policy.

For all these reasons, the Ombuds is the right place to go for a talk no matter where you are in a conflict, because we are open to everyone and are pledged to work in a nonjudgmental and confidential manner. So no matter what the conflict or issue you are facing, if you would like to discuss it in a confidential setting that is completely distinct from any formal process, administrative or otherwise, do not hesitate to make an appointment with the Ombuds. Our door is open.

David G. Schwartz

UNLV Ombuds