‘Employees have the right to decent treatment’

Since September 2015, the role of confidential counsellor has been held by two people: Jan Maasen, head of Healthcare at the Health, Safety and Environment department, and Marije Bedaux, career coach at the Faculty of Law. How are they finding their role? 'In some cases, the main thing is to listen and give the person your attention.'

Why two for the price of one?
Maasen: ‘There are several different reasons. The role of confidential counsellor can be a bit isolated because you can be dealing with some intense issues. That's when it's good that there are two of us. And then there's the continuity. I'm 63, so you can work out what that means. And there was also a practical aspect. Officially the position is for two days a week. I was still working one day a week as medical officer for the University. I stopped doing that, but still didn't have enough time.’
Bedaux: ‘It's also important to be able to exchange ideas with someone about how to address a problem. I have a lot of experience with coaching people and analysing business processes and the dynamics of organisations. My legal training is a great help, and the combination of one male and one female is also good.'

What exactly is the role of a confidential counsellor?
Maasen: ‘Officially we're called Confidential Counsellor for Staff Issues. Employees are entitled to be treated decently by the University, but problems can crop up in that relationship. In many cases it will be a problem with the person's supervisor, or in his or her relationship with colleagues. There might be communication problems or an employee might think that changes to their job or the organisation have a negative impact on them. Or there may be a misunderstanding that employees don't dare to bring up.'

Can you mention a couple of examples of such problems?
Maasen: ‘A member of staff can find they aren't able to take holidays when they want. Or there is a reorganisation and someone feels unfairly treated.’
Bedaux: ‘A person might have the feeling that they don't have the same opportunities as others, or it's not clear why they have been rejected for a particular job. Then they want to know where they stand and what they should do.' 
Maasen: ‘Half of the employees who come to us need only one meeting. They are able to address the problem themselves but they want to talk about how to do it. Or they have an idea about it but want to test it out. It's about empowerment: helping people to help themselves.'

What can you do to solve a problem?
Maasen: ‘We can ask questions of the supervisor, do some investigating, act as intermediary and give advice. For example, if several people come to us from the same department. We also regularly talk to international staff working here, such PhD candidates. An underlying problem can be that it's more difficult for them to talk about rights and responsibilities. Something like that has to be dealt with not just on an individual basis but at HRM level.’
Bedaux: ‘We are independent, and we aren't on one side or the other. In my everyday work I'm only in contact with students. We can take all kinds of steps but we do nothing without first discussing it with the person who contacted us.'

Is your job difficult?
Maasen: ‘Sometimes you are faced with very difficult issues. A person can have a problem with their supervisor, their colleagues aren't pleasant, the pressure of work is too great - all in all a whole bag of problems. There's a lot of information and a lot of emotion. You have to get al the issues out on the table and get a clear picture of what's going on. That's a typical kind of situation where it's handy that there are two of us.’
Bedaux: ‘What makes it difficult at times is that you want everyone within the University to be happy in their work, but unfortunately you can't resolve every issue that comes up.'

And what's the best thing about your job?
Bedaux: ‘The work is challenging but very rewarding. People who make an appointment with us mainly need someone who will listen and give them serious attention. And it's good to be able to do that. It's also really interesting because you hear stories from all parts of the University. For a member of staff it can be a great relief to have shared their problem with us.' 
Maasen: ‘And we're talking about all levels, from professors to the tea lady.'

Leiden University Confidential Consellor for Personnel Issues

Complaints box for employees
There are a number of different confidential advisers - for example, one for academic integrity and another for undesirable harrassment. Employees and students can also lodge a complaint against a decision by the University by writing to the Appeals and Objections Committee. 

How do you know who to approach for what kind of issue?  The digital complaints box for employees will point you to the right person.

Last Modified: 18-10-2016